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Question about sound-alike music

Discussion in 'Copyright, Trademark, Patent Law' started by johnnyz, Apr 26, 2011.

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  1. johnnyz

    johnnyz Law Topic Starter New Member

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    I'm an indepenant musician who is in the the middle of recording an album; one of the songs to be recorded (an instrumental) has an introduction that is reminiscent of The Godfather theme - by that I mean that the introduction uses similar instrumentation (classical guitar, strings, and mandolin) and has a similar tempo and feel (although the melody and chord progression in the intro are completely different from The Godfather theme). The rest of the song plays the same melody and chord progression using a different tempo, feel, and instrumentation - we just wanted the intro to have kind of an Italian flavor to it. Would what I just described be considered a sound-alike and would it also be considered copyright infringement in regards to the Godfather theme even if the melody and chord progression are different?
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
  2. army judge

    army judge Super Moderator

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    If you recognize the similarity, the song's owner's will see it, too!

    You might want to rethink using the song.

    People get sued everyday.
     
  3. johnnyz

    johnnyz Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thanks for the input!

    If push came to shove I would just redo the intro rather than throw away the entire song. Yes I do recognize the similarity, but I think that's mostly due to the mandolin tremolo effect that we use in the song (a very clichéd element of traditional Italian music which is also heard in the Godfather theme, hence the association). If I remove the mandolin part then the similarity to the Godfather theme seems to disappear as well. Does this mean that no one else can record original music that uses the same instrumentation and stylistic elements as in the Godfather theme for fear of copyright infringement? I don't know - I guess I'm also implicitly asking that question as well.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2011
  4. wisemans_voyage

    wisemans_voyage Member

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    In my opinion you should go for it! Chances are very likely it won't affect anything concerning the owner of the Godfather theme! Worst case scenario is that they may give a warning not to play your song because it infringes on the Godfather theme.

    It is true people sue all the time, however many suits are simply frivilous!
     
  5. Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler Administrator Staff Member

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    As a musician and an attorney, this area to me is a complete crapshoot (a technical term. :) ) Take the 50s and 60s and doo-wop era as an example of the huge gray area. Thanks to that era my need to expand my repertoire was limited to remembering lyrics. :) Yet "My Sweet Lord" resulted in a lawsuit between George Harrison and the Chiffons. Go figure.

    But if the melody line is completely different and there are just general similarities in terms of the style, I'd say there is limited to no chance you'll have a problem. Don't take my word for it here - I haven't heard the song - but there are some things that are either not protected under copyright or not feasible to prove. Simply because a famous musical piece uses a quartet and happens to have 3 guitars which create a somewhat unusual ensemble doesn't mean that there is intellectual property protection with that group of musicians. Musicians make music together. Simply because one combination of musicians is less popular than another doesn't grant monopoly status on that combination and, if there was protection, it would have to be shown how copyright law applies in this situation. Moreso, how would someone go about proving infringement in this instance if the melody is different? Infringement of what? How many other pieces use the same style? My feeling as an attorney for the plaintiff - unless the combination is so exceedingly rare and unique so as to make copying highly likely, I wouldn't bother with the case.

    My feeling is also that only very famous musicians get sued because they have deep pockets to sue. Everyone else flies under the radar unless their song becomes extremely well known. And unless there is a good connection between the songs, and not just a similar musical combination and some style that is representative of an entire genre of music. In the My Sweet Lord / He's So Fine case, the George Harrison and Chiffons songs contained some similarities but, to be honest, I don't think I would have given them a second thought without the lawsuit. To bolster my feelings on the topic, apparently the Billy Preston version of My Sweet Lord flew under the radar. But when one of the most well known names in the music business performed the song, people flocked to hear it and the trouble began.

    Just my feelings on the topic. :) Long live the creative process.
     
  6. johnnyz

    johnnyz Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thanks a bunch for your input - very methodical reasoning that makes a lot of sense!

    Regards,
    John
     

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