There is a definite and somewhat unsettling theme/tenor apparent in a recent New York Times article relevant to the selective universe of American songwriters.
And it is this: their growing fear surrounding issues of authorship and infringement.
Collective songwriter angst grounded in the self-query, “Who’s coming to get me on alleged infringement?” is nothing new. The Times piece notes a comment uttered by George Harrison more than 40 years ago, following a jury verdict against him in a musical copyright case.
Harrison’s famed hit “My Sweet Lord” was found to have unlawfully borrowed from an earlier song. Harrison steadfastly claimed that, if there was any infringement at all, it was purely “subconscious.” He later noted following the verdict “a paranoia about songwriting that had started to build up in me.”
Legions of current songwriters readily empathize with that comment, especially in the wake of a $5 million judgment issued against singer-songwriters Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams several years ago. A jury determined that the pair’s hit “Blurred Lines” illegally borrowed from an earlier Marvin Gaye song.
The post-Blurred Lines world has become increasingly litigious and uncertain, say industry insiders. The case has reportedly “fueled a rise in copyright claims” and rendered songwriters fearful that their creativity is now being virtually analyzed note-by-note by would-be litigants.
“I shouldn’t be thinking about legal precedent when I am trying to write a chorus,” laments one prominent song crafter.
One central criticism of songwriters is that they don’t have a limitless universe to explore. As the Times article notes, “there are only so many notes in the scale,” a fact that leaves them always vulnerable to claims of third-party infringement.