Copyright laws were created to protect the intellectual property of anyone who creates or conceives anything. Musicians are no exception. Under copyright law, musicians have exclusive rights to their own compositions, even if they aren’t registered with the copyright office. The tricky part for an artist who’s music isn’t registered with the office is proving ownership of said intellectual property. It’s important for musicians to be aware of their rights in a time when people in all fields are suing and being sued left and right.
Many artists are finding themselves on both sides of the coin. In 2007, Led Zeppelin sued Sean Kingston for ripping off the chorus from their 1973 song “Dyer Maker” in his song “Me Love,” and this year Led Zeppelin was sued by a band called Spirit for ripping a rift from their 1968 song, “Taurus,” and using it in their own song “Stairway to Heaven.” The truth is, any musical arrangement is going to have something in common with at least some other song. The majority of song lyrics address the same general themes of love, romance, regret, and heartache, and the 12 notes that make up the musical alphabet can only be arranged in so many ways. What’s sad is when a musician gets away from using music as an expressive outlet for communicating grief or joy, or gaining personal satisfaction out of bringing order and beauty to daily failures and triumphs, and begins treating it like a asset they have to protect, like Gollum with the ring.
It doesn’t take a lawyer to understand the way copyright law affects music. As copyright law has become increasingly important to musicians over the past few decades, music has become colder, dryer, and more synthetic. Pop artists seem completely detached from their work, and many even resort to making a cheap show out of it rather than a performance centered around music. Although copyright laws are meant to protect intellectual property, they work to instill an idea of ownership, profit, and fear into the musical field. Music is meant to shared and cherished, not contested over in a court of law. Hopefully the decades ahead will bring some authenticity back to music.