How To

The blurred line between musical influence and plagiarism

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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The person who said that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, clearly never worked in the music industry. One of the biggest news stories recently involved Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams releasing a song called “Blurred Lines”, which has been judged (in court) as being too similar to Marvin Gaye’s hit track, “Got To Give It Up”. In this landmark and highly public case, it is actually Gaye’s children that put forward the case of breach of copyright, and it is they who have been awarded $7.3 million.

This case was made even more interesting by the fact that the actual audio of the songs was not played in court, and although Williams admits the songs are similar he maintains he was channeling a late 70s sound rather than copying a specific track. All musicians have musical influences, which often can be heard in their music releases. But when does it become an infringement and where do we draw the line?

If we jump back a few years to when Paramore’s song “Only Exception” was accused of ripping off the small time band The Tenspoke Indies and their song “Starlighter”, however the smaller band lost this battle.

Recently Sam Smith’s song “Stay With Me” was found to be very similar to a Tom Petty track, after Smith admitted that indeed it was similar, they settled out of court. More often than not, writers are unaware of any infringements and it’s just pure coincidence that two songs sound similar in parts. After all, there are only so many chord structures and melody combinations in music so there are bound to be similar sounding songs. Axis of Awesome perfectly showcased this with a fantastic video titled, “4 Four Chord Song” where numerous songs are performed with the same four chords throughout. Watch this here.

There will continue to be copyright issues in the music industry, and depending on the writers and rights owners, they may settle in court for the chance to receive vast sums of money or out of court to keep credibility. The industry has been abuzz with the Pharell and Thicke story as it could potential change the nature of songwriting in the future and effectively impact upon how similar cases are dealt with in the future.

Where do you stand with this topic? Would you feel like you were owed royalties if you were Marvin Gaye’s children? Are you careful to not copy music from your influences when you write songs? Or maybe you think it’s ridiculous how precious people are becoming over the “likeness” of a song to another. Let us know where you stand on this or your experiences.

Co-writes are a great way to share influences and get a second opinion on your track, use Music Gateway to connect with someone to co-write that next big track by creating a collaboration project for free. Just make sure you don’t get stuck in court in a few years time!

Image Credits:

Thicke – photo credit: <a href=”″>Blurred Lines</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

Hayley Williams – photo credit: <a href=”″>Paramore</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

Marvin Gaye – photo credit: <a href=”″>MarvinGayeHenneseyAd</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

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