Good artists copy, great artists steal is the saying. We can paraphrase it to “Good artists try to sound original by hiding their influences”, while “great artists let their influences show”. It’s how the language of music is learned. We imitate our influences.
If you don’t believe me, what is the first thing a person does when they are learning an instrument?
We start by learning songs created by other artists.
Inspiration is not theft. Theft is me taking something and you not having it to use anymore, like your apple or your car. Taking a musical expression and using it in your own song is not theft, as the original musical expression is still there. Here are some examples of taking musical expressions and re-using them in different songs. And in each example, the original expression is still there.
- Five Finger Death Punch in the verses of “Lift Me Up” paid homage to Ozzy’s vocal melody from “The Ultimate Sin”.
- Megadeth in the verses of “Kingmaker” paid homage to Black Sabbath’s “Children of the Grave”.
- Dave Mustaine wrote “This Was My Life” from his “Phantom Lord” progression that appears from about 2.30 to 3.10.
- “Live Wire” from Motley Crue borrowed from Girlschool’s “Yeah Right”.
- “My Sanctuary” from Unisonic released in 2012 has a vocal melody that is very similar to “A Flock Of Seagulls” song called “I Ran (So Far Away)” that was released in 1981.
- “Hey Hey My My” from Neil Young, released in 1979 is very similar to the song “I’d Love To Change The World” from Ten Years After released in 1971. In addition the riff to Tom Petty’s “Refugee” from 1980 is also very similar to “I’d Love To Change The World.”
- “Ten Black Roses” from The Rasmus released in 2008 borrows from Muse’s “Showbiz” released in 1998.
- “Life is Beautiful” from Sixx AM released in 2007 borrows from Duran Duran’s “Come Undone” released in 1993.
- Even the song “Come Undone” is an amalgamation of other songs. Duran Duran wrote a song called “First Impression” and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo was creating a re-interpretation of the song for a covers album the band was doing which would include some re-interpreted songs. The bass line and drum groove came from producer John Jones and a song demo he did called “Face to Face”.
- The song “This Is It” from the band Staind released in 2011 has the chorus vocal melody that borrows from The Offspring’s “Gone Away” chorus melody.
- “Shepherd Of Fire” borrows from everything. The fire and the bell at the start and the feedback riff with the evil tri-tone is influenced from the song “Black Sabbath”. The drum pattern is very “Trust” like from Megadeth which is based on based on AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap”. The guitar riffs are also very Megadeth like and also based on “Trust” from “Cryptic Writings”. Yep, it’s perfect and it is a perfect example of the “progress is derivative” effect in action.
The list is just a summary of how the creative arts work.
We take what came before and we build on it. And for creativity to flourish and for cultures to grow like the British 60’s explosion, a healthy public domain is needed which means shorter copyright terms or even no copyright terms.
Copyright is never about paying artists/creators. Copyright was designed by the distributors (book publishers, record labels and movie studios) so who do you think benefits most from Copyright.
For centuries, the distributors have campaigned hard to promote how Copyright is there to help writers and artists. They have PR writers who tell the story of the poor artist who needs Copyright to pay the rent and how dare do people, copy a song instead of paying a price set by the industry for it. These PR writers have turning copying a song, (two songs exists) into theft (now product A is not in your possession).
Yes, Copyright operators do pay artists as a means to make it look like it’s doing the right thing, however more monies end up in the pockets of the organisations than artists.
And all of the great PR work the labels, movie studios and book publishers did in selling the copyright story is biting back at them, via the heirs of dead artists (who in reality should have no rights to songs they didn’t create) taking them to court with plagiarism law suits and what not.
Sort of like our governments who finance revolutionaries, only to have those revolutionaries rise up against their financiers once they seize power.