Satriani Has A Case

Plagiarism.  It’s a loaded word.  No one wants to be accused of it.  Why?  Because if you’re found guilty, not only will your finances take a hit, so will your credibility.
This is the dilemma currently facing Coldplay.  Ever since the June 2008 release of Viva La Vida Or Death And All His Friends (that title is growing on me), their terrific fourth album, a longtime axman has come forward to complain that one song off that album is not entirely original.
In early December last year, guitarist Joe Satriani filed a lawsuit against the band alleging that their number one hit, Viva La Vida, sounds an awful lot like his 2004 track, If I Could Fly.  A week later, the British quartet offered this response to the charge on their website:
“With the greatest possible respect to Joe Satriani, we have now unfortunately found it necessary to respond publicly to his allegations. If there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him. Joe Satriani is a great musician, but he did not write the song ‘Viva la Vida.’ We respectfully ask him to accept our assurances of this and wish him well with all future endeavours.”
As the 51st Grammy Awards telecast approaches, Satriani remains determined to see his case heard in front of a jury.  (He’s seeking “damages and ‘any and all profits’ attributable to the alleged copyright infringement,” according to MTV News.)  The timing of all of this couldn’t be worse for Coldplay.  They’re up for seven prizes including Album Of The Year and Record & Song Of The Year for Viva La Vida.  Could this whole situation cost them trophies?
More importantly, is Satriani right?  Did Coldplay steal a key element of a song the 52-year-old shredder had been working on, as a tribute to his wife, for 14 years?  And if so, why haven’t they reached a deal in order to avoid a long, costly, possibly acrimonious jury trial?  (According to Satriani, attempts to avoid a lawsuit altogether by reaching out to the band personally proved fruitless and frustrating.)
The only way to get to the bottom of this dispute is to hear the relevant portions of the two songs back to back.  Thankfully, this is possible through a one-minute YouTube clip which you can check out by clicking here and scrolling down.  Having heard it three times myself, it’s hard to imagine Coldplay convincing a jury that Satriani is out of his mind.  If they foolishly decide to take their chances in court, they will lose.  Even though Viva La Vida’s melody is in a lower key than If I Could Fly, the arrangement of the former is quite similiar to that of the latter.
Coldplay missed a glorious opportunity to work out a quiet, reasonable deal with Satriani, a common industry practice, as music historian Alan Cross has noted.  But their stubbornness has clearly gotten in the way.  While Viva La Vida is a beautiful song worthy of multiple Grammys, Satriani deserves compensation.  It makes no difference whether all of this was an accident on Coldplay’s part.  The two songs at the centre of this dispute have a moving melody in common.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 8, 2009
12:48 a.m.
UPDATE:  There’s a surprise twist that has recently come to my attention today.  I was sent this YouTube clip of Cat Stevens performing an abbreviated live version of his 1973 track, The Foreigner Suite.  There’s nothing out of the ordinary until you reach the 3:18 mark.  Listen very closely to the piano and vocal melody.  It sounds almost exactly like the riff from Satriani’s If I Could Fly.  If you click here, you’ll hear that riff seamlessly mixed with that section of The Foreigner Suite.  Will Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) try to protect his copyright against Satriani and Coldplay?  The plot thickens.
(Special thanks to Anne Pleydon.)
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 8, 2009
3:04 p.m.
Published in: on February 8, 2009 at 12:48 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Good Article Man. Did not know this was going down. Hope Joe Wins.

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