Copyright is an interesting topic when thinking about the world in general, however it becomes that much more important when thinking about the creative industries. What’s interesting to me about copyright an creativity is mainly the mystery surrounding originality. In current music culture, the remix is a prominent form of music and it’s literally built out of other peoples songs, somehow this is okay?
As an aspiring composer and sound designer I’m always creating songs and sounds that are in ways similar to works I, or somebody I know, has heard before, and of course I’m interested in the consequences of this. If I hear a song I like and I feel like the way the bass is played would be really good for the piece I’m working on is it wrong for me to copy it? There’s always that fear that I’ll make a great song and then after it’s released someone will come along and sue me because it sounds like someone else’s works or bits of it anyway.
Here you can hear one of DJ Earworms United State of Pop remixes in which he takes parts from all the chart toppers of 2015 and makes an entire song out of these parts. I don’t think the question is whether DJ Earworm is creative as many consider his works to be a fantastic way to review the music culture and trends of a year. Jan O’Brien says in her article here that Earworms mashups remind us that in 2009 music was all about getting back up after getting knocked down and 2010 is all about partying. Earworm makes a point about this in the following video saying he plans the mashups according to a trend, for example the 2015 remix is about addiction and needing more. This is interesting because it shows not only is there value in listening to his arrangements as entertainment but they also have a deeper message which would have taken some thought to implement.
In the same video DJ Earworm remarks that he is constantly “walking on eggshells” as in he doesn’t know when he’s going to get in trouble for creating these works. Tim White in this article explains that Earworm is in fact in violation of a number of different copyright laws, however, as he is purely not-for-profit it is general practice for the actual license holders of the music not to sue. This works well as the world would be a pretty sad place if Earworm could be disadvantaged simple for creating something people enjoy. To sum up, remixing like Earworm has done, from a musical standpoint is considered copying and can’t be sold.
In contrast looking at the song “Last Night” by the Strokes and comparing it to “American Girl” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers several similarities can be identified, particularly in the rhythm section. However no copyright laws are in breach here and that is because although the musical ideas are similar they are ultimately delivered in a way that allows them to be different.
Because it is not my goal to directly sample and use other people music, like DJ Earworm but instead use similar musical ideas like The Strokes, I feel like I shouldn’t be too worried about getting into trouble with copyright laws. In conclusion it seems like copyright laws are based on common sense and if something sounds the same it’s usually because its been copied.