Plagiarism in music is a topic that new artists should keep an eye on. It is a reason that may lead to the downfall of their career quickly if ignored. Even though in most cases detected plagiarism in music is coincidental, in some cases, small oversights, whether they may be intentional or unintentional, may lead to their career collapsing. That being said, artists should be aware of the possible risks and what they can do to prevent them.
The good news for artists is that music scale progressions are exempt of copyright infringement. In other words, the base beat and chords that make a song can be nearly identical and this would not be an issue. The main focus is the lead melody that makes the song recognizable. This is the melody which stays in your head for weeks and you whistle or hum on your way to the supermarket. When two or more songs are matching with this defining melody the problems start for the latter artists. “The Axis Of Awesome” give a good example of this, where they play dozens of popular songs based on the same four chords:
Songs from different genres are not excluded from this rule. There have been many cases where artists from two completely different music genres ended up in the courtroom together. A good example of this is the German band Kraftwerk that was formed around the year 1969. Until today, many genres have changed and new ones have emerged, however you can still hear Kraftwerk song excerpts in songs today. On the following video you can hear only several comparisons of songs, where only some of them ended up with a lawsuit:
Possible Solutions and Preventive Measures
We advise to follow these tips to avoid ending up with plagiarized songs. We have translated them from our experience in academia, into music:
- Try out variations of your melody in different scales or keys. Doing this can give you a different perspective on the song you are working on. That in turn result in a more original and even better melody
- Share your piece of work with your friends and family. You should be doing that with people of different backgrounds, age and music genre affinity. Aside from getting (hopefully) honest feedback that will help you improve your song, they may recognize a similarity with another tune they have heard before that you may want to look into. If you have a friend working in the music industry you should be in luck. They would listen to your tune and share it with their colleagues that can help you with this
- Try out softwares that will analyze your song and possibly detect a similarity with a different existing song. One of the most popular applications for this purpose for example is “Shazam”
- Sometimes simply changing the tempo of the beat can lead to a more unique sound than before
- In relation to the previous suggestion, sometimes changing a chord in between the melody can do the trick. Music is a dynamic and requires a lot of experimentation. The slightest change in a chord in combination with perhaps the tempo can yield a sound unmatchable to the one that was modified before
Plagiarizing music can lead to the undoing of musical careers. This leaves artists with financial debts and in many cases their reputation for recovering. Artists should always aim to uniqueness and originality to avoid that from ever happening.