Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Copyright Infringement?

Looking for an entertaining yet informative legal resource to explore this summer? Columbia Law School and the UCLA Intellectual Property Project maintain a website called the Copyright Infringement Project, which provides information about U.S. copyright cases involving popular music. Visitors to the site can download audio files of songs in dispute, comparing derivative works and parodies to the originals. The site also provides the full text of court opinions about the songs and brief comments from the site’s authors. Visitors can access cases by decade or song title.

The cases involve songs from a wide variety of musical genres. Visitors can read how Michael Bolton’s song “Love is a Wonderful Thing” infringed the Isley Brothers’ copyright in a tune of the same name (Three Boys Music v. Bolton). Bolton’s infringement resulted in a $5.4 million jury award. Visitors can also find out whether Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom Song” unlawfully appropriated the melody of a folk tune (Repp v. Webber). A dispute involving the band ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker’s song “Boogie Chillin” is an interesting case about what constitutes the public domain (La Cienega Music Co. v. ZZ Top). Bridgeport v. Combs involves a dispute about whether Notorious B.I.G. unlawfully “sampled” part of a song written by the Dayton-rooted Ohio Players. And of course, visitors can read about the famously foul-mouthed rap ensemble 2 Live Crew and its parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” (Acuff-Rose Music v. Campbell). This one made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with 2 Live Crew. Justice Souter’s opinion includes the complete song lyrics in the appendices. Other artists with cases on the site include Calvin Broadus (aka Snoop Dogg), Beyonce, Mariah Carey, John Williams (involving theme music for the movie E.T.), deceased Beatle George Harrison, and three cases involving the late, legendary King of Pop.

The site also has a section called “INPLAY” about ongoing or recently settled disputes. This section includes information about guitarist Joe Satriani’s claim that Coldplay’s popular song “Viva La Vida” infringed his copyright in his work “If I Could Fly” (Satriani v. Martin). Listen to the two songs yourself to compare. The parties apparently settled in September 2009. Click here to link to the site. Enjoy!

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