When Is A Musical Introduction Copyrightable? Katy Perry, White Zombie, The Pixies, Neil Young, Isaac Hayes


I really liked Frank Reynolds’ post from yesterday.  I hope he doesn’t mind but I’ve reprinted it below.  All I’ve done to change his text is italicize it and BOLD some of it:

“I believe the sandals commercial is like the Black Eyed Peas song that rips off a portion of I’ve Had The Time Of My Life. So, let’s just blame will.i.am for the whole thing.

Great questions posed Dr. H.! It’s definitely not infringement in relation to copyright, and I don’t think they owe Lennon/McCartney (okay, probably just McCartney in this case) anything other than gratitude for coming up with the cool intro idea (which isn’t a copyrightable element). I wouldn’t call it copying, but rather paying homage if they’re even aware that they did it. It’s like the tradition of incorporating other people’s ideas in the blues genre. No one knows who wrote it the first time. I remember a lecture you gave on that, and it shuts up the Zeppelin haters when I use that logic on them. Cheers E. Michael!”

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I think an introduction can be copyrightable, i.e., worthy of copyright protection, but with respect to The Beatles, and Sandals, there is no problem.  I agree with Frank  –  from a copyright perspective, the intro of the Beatles’ “Getting Better” has not been infringed by the intro of the Sandals.com commercial.  Here are the songs again:

Sandals – Do It All Again

The Beatles – Getting Better

If we agree that there are introductions that are NOT copyrightable, i.e., do not possess enough originality to be worthy of copyright protection, does it follow that there are introductions that ARE copyrightable?  Copyrightable introductions will be worth pursuing later, but not today.

I thought I would start to listen more carefully and analyze introductions to songs to find the least and most COPYRIGHTABLE introductions, as well as the “in-between” introductions, i.e., introductions that would exhibit some copyrightable elements.  I believe that there is a sliding scale of copyright protection – that some introductions are not copyrightable as musical compositions, some slightly so, some more so, and some extremely so.  The length of the excerpt, both in terms of temporal length as well as number of attacks and/or articulations, as well as its originality would also be factors used in determining how copyright protection should be afforded an introduction.  (That last sentence also applies, of course, to music that follows the introduction.)

My quick take is that there are more introductions that ARE copyrightable than NOT copyrightable.  I need to establish a few guidelines in order to conduct my analysis and report my findings.  Let’s say that we are looking at introductions of more than a few seconds and more than a few notes/attacks/articulations.  (This can get squishy very fast, can’t it?).

I’ve also started down this road  –  1.  delving into the construction and creation of music, and 2.  how copyright is involved in, and relates to, music.  And that brings me to a line from the song, “You Made Me Love You:”

“I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it”

I am doing a few things here:

1.  I am asserting that copyright is fluid – that some things are protectible and some not, and some lie “in-between,” i.e., they exhibit some copyright worthiness.  This is driving the conversation NEAR the ballpark, but not in the ball park, of defining copyright.  [Oh no.  Not yet I won’t.]

2.  I am starting to use various words and phrases that might be identical in meaning or nearly identical.  For example – “copyrightable” might be the same as, or similar to, “worthy of copyright protection.”  “Copyright-IBLE” might be the same as “copyright-ABLE,” and so on.  But we are not yet ready for too many SYNONYMS.

To paraphrase Documentarian Marty DiBergi, “But enough of my yacking, let’s boogie…to the introductions of various songs.”  All of these introductions represent very little worthiness of copyright protection as musical compositions.  It is important to note that I am not making musical judgments as I feel these songs have great and musical introductions.  [“Musical” can be a highly complimentary adjective.]  But the copyrightability of these introductions is not analogous to their musical merit.

Here are seven (7) intros today.  Maybe we’ll do seven (7) more tomorrow.

(Again, these are intros that are NOT very copyrightable.)

The Doors  –  Back Door Man

Isaac Hayes  –  By The Time I Get To Phoenix

 Frank Black  –  Hang On To Your Ego

Katy Perry  –  Circle The Drain

Neil Young  –  Without Rings

Pixies  –  Bone Machine

White Zombie  –  Thunder Kiss ’65 

Your thoughts?

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