“You Stole My Music!” Issues of Chords and Copyright Across Genres

In previous centuries, what was called “quotation” of musical material (or using excerpts of another composer’s works within one’s own works) was not something to be ashamed of. The idea of musical quotation actually demonstrated musical prowess of the person who created his or her artwork to be referenced by later composers. For example, scholars argue that they can hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” theme in Brahms’ Symphony No. 1, which was composed about 40 years later. Yet, in the twenty-first century, attitudes toward musical ownership have radically changed. A recent example  is a court case that was ruled on in March of this year involving Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams, and T.I. against the estate of Marvin Gaye. Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines” is allegedly a take-off of Marvin Gaye’s song, “Got to Give It Up,” which was released in 1977. The “Blurred Lines” team lost the case, ultimately owing over $7 million to the Gaye estate.

There are, predictably, two sides to this issue: the musical side and the legal side. Read More »