Complaining Work​

Defending Work​

Joe Satriani

"If I Could Fly"

Hear Sound Recording

Christopher Martin et al. [Coldplay]

"Viva la Vida"

Hear Sound Recording

 

Here we have the hallmarks of a typical music copyright infringement dispute: an aggrieved relatively obscure pop musician and song (an aging rocker named Joe Satriani and a number called “If I could fly”), and a very popular band (Coldplay) with an envy-provoking lucrative hit (“Viva la vida”).

With its pretty, young English singer Christopher Martin – teeth apparently re-glazed at least for video recordings so as not to repulse affluent American audiences, limbs trussed with assorted bracelets and other meaningless amulets that must hold some peculiar sex appeal for tweens – Coldplay, like many mainstream bands, cannily markets itself to an enormous young audience nursed on music videos. Joe Satriani, balding, mid-fifties, is not likely to capture the eyes, ears, or dollars, of this magically profitable sector. From the sound of “If I could fly,” Joe Satriani plays the sort of strident rock music one might have heard in the 1980s, in a middle class suburb in New Jersey, blaring from the neighbors with the obnoxious teenage son.  

Of course the melodies of the two songs sound somewhat alike, but the genres of the two pieces are dissimilar (the plaintiff’s is an instrumental rock solo; the defendant’s a pop “ballad”) and it is somewhat doubtful that the typical listener would associate the two works unless specifically asked to do so. In any event, after paring the melodically similar portions of the two songs down to their musical essence, the shared musical expression is rather minimal: a two-measure motif involving a descending third.

The New York Times (17 September 2009) reports that Joe Satriani has dropped his claim against Coldplay. Not surprisingly, the parties have not disclosed the terms of the settlement. Throwing a plaintiff a financial bone to make him go away is often the easiest and most economical course for well-heeled defendants in these situations. But doing so may encourage the regrettable means by which misguided plaintiffs, and opportunist lawyers, have, for many years, extracted money from financially successful performers by capitalizing upon insignificant musical coincidences between otherwise dissimilar works.

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