Digging up music plagiarism is turning into a collective Web 2.0 obsession. Be it dissecting the origins of a Timbaland beat or tracing Crystal Castles’ artwork, the Internet community loves labelling musicians as creativity pirates.
Lately, these online broadsides are flying at hi-speed and without merit, all while the music industry eats, sleeps and breathes its diving sales numbers.
Last week, Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, billed by some as the saviour of its label, EMI, and by others as the saviour of the music industry, was alleged to include stolen melodies.
This cavalier allegation came not from a typical Coldplay detractor, of whom there are many, but from Andrew Hoepfner, lead singer of an American independent pop band called Creaky Boards.
On a carefully edited YouTube video, he accused Coldplay of outright theft of his band’s song, claiming the melody from Coldplay’s title track is so suspiciously similar to a song by his band that Chris Martin, Coldplay’s frontman, must’ve stolen the song from a Creaky Boards live show in New York in 2007.Hoepfner only withdrew the charge after his video received 600,000 views, a rush of media attention and a stiff rebuttal from Coldplay, who said they had never even heard the song.
In another flimsy attack, a YouTube user attempted to expose producer Polow Da Don, the beatsmith behind Usher’s Love In This Club, as a fraud.
His song, as you can hear in another YouTube clip, is very similar to preset sounds on Apple’s Garageband music-making program. (Since the preset sounds are explicitly made for sampling, this barely qualifies as theft. But tell that to the 60,000-plus YouTube viewers who watched the clip.)
Da Don responded that the loops in the song sound familiar because of his keyboard, not Garageband, and that the song contains a live bass line and an original hook. He also pointed to the success of the song – an improbable late-career, top-selling single for Usher. As plagiarism hawks stay vigilant online, the listening public only seem to pay attention to the beat.
Examples of clear-cut plagiarism have, of course, been exposed online. But those investigations were not conducted by self-styled Web sleuths looking to catch a musician with his or her hand in the cookie jar, but by honest listeners. One famous case began in February 2007 when a financial analyst in upstate New York loaded a CD by pianist Joyce Hatto onto his computer. The name that came up in his iTunes window, however, was not Hatto’s but that of a pianist named László Simon.
That discovery set off an international and largely online inquiry that eventually revealed Hatto to have been a prolific plagiarist who copied the bulk of her oeuvre from other musicians. Both her audience and critics had been deceived. As a rare case of genuine fakery, Hatto’s unmasking was seminal. The rest of the Internet-sourced plagiarism cases are mostly impotent.
Leak of the Week
For the silent majority who don’t care about the leak of Axl Rose’s Chinese Democracy, The Verve single Love Is Noise leaked this week, right here.