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Satriani vs Coldplay: court docs and audio links

Category : Journalism · by Dec 10th, 2008

So British superband of the moment Coldplay is being sued in Los Angeles for plagiarising guitarist Joe Satriani in their hit Viva la Vida. Joe says that the song – also the title of Coldplay’s fourth album “incorporated substantial, original portions of Plaintiff’s composition ‘If I Could Fly‘.”

Read the actual court document detailing the case against Coldplay here.

The court docs were filed last week – 4 December – and so of course, the Internet being the extraordinary global gossip network that it is, the story has swamped a million blogs and newspapers. Joe has done an interview with Music Radar saying that it “felt like a dagger went right through my heart” when he first heard Coldplay’s composition. Following the media frenzy, Coldplay has responded with a note on its website saying “if there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental” and asking that Joe “respectfully accept our assurances” that they didn’t rip him off.

Something that always bugs me about stories covering lawsuits is that media outlets never provides links the documents themselves, so I thought I’d fix that and go grab the docs and post them here.

Meanwhile, the YouTubers have leapt into action, posting videos (more audio files with pics added) that play the clips apart and together. There is no doubt that the two songs have the same pace, the same melody, the same chord progression – and this has sparked an even bigger frenzy.


Satriani and Coldplay comparison

But back the court docs themselves. So far there have been four filings in case CV08-07987.

  • The initial complaint filed on the 4th December (and entered into court on the 8th – after Joe gave his interview, so don’t think that Joe and his lawyers aren’t making as much of this as they can).
  • A notice of interested parties – a legal thing and basically just a list of Coldplay members with their record label (Capitol)
  • A copy of the filing of copyright infringement with the Copyright Office in Washington DC
  • And a note that on 9 December that the case had been “heard” and had entered into the system with Judge Dean D. Pregerson presiding over the case.

So, what do the court docs actually say?

Well, that Mr Satriani is one of the “premier rock guitarists” in the world – which I have to admit is news to me as I’d never heard of him before now. But apparently he has sold 10 million albums – so it must be a US thing.

He alleges that the Coldplay song “copies and incorporated substantial, original portions of Plaintiff’s composition ‘If I Could Fly‘” and that there is a “substantial similarity between the two works”.

The case has three claims: Copyright Infringement; Constructive Trust (basically that Coldplay have received money that belong to him and so are “involuntary trustees”); and For An Accounting – which basically says that he doesn’t know how much Coldplay have earned from Viva la Vida and so that is why there isn’t an amount in the lawsuit that he is seeking.

He is however seeking “any and all profits of Defendants that are attributable to their acts of infringement” – basically any money at all that Coldplay have made from sales of the single, and quite possible from album sales and gigs where they have played the song.

As unlikely as that may seem, it has already happened once or twice in the past – most famously when The Verve had to give all the money it made from Bittersweet Symphony to The Rolling Stones because they stole the basic orchestral flow of the song.

However, Mr Satriani assertion that Coldplay – and everyone else – be prevented from playing the song while the court case in action is never going to happen and is just an example of an LA lawyer aiming for everything.

So, will Joe win?

Well, in cases such as this, it’s more a matter of proving how big you are, rather than being bigger than who you are suing. So, for example, George Harrison of The Beatles has to pay damages from his hit single My Sweet Lord because it was very similar to He’s So Fine by The Surpremes. The copying was unintentional, George said – and no one has any reason to disbelieve him – in much the same way we have no reason to disbelieve Coldplay when it says it unintentionally copied Joe’s music.

What Joe will have to prove is that he is a big enough fish. He doesn’t have to be as big as Coldplay but he should be a name that people already recognise. He fails that in my eyes, but then the court case is in America and I’m not American (although I am living here) so I’m a hopeless judge of his stature in the eyes of people here.

Will it mean the end of music as we know it? Nope. These things keep rolling on. Bigger principles than whether Coldplay can buy another mansion are at foot and they will barely notice the cash. If you want evidence of the fact that music will keep rolling on – consider the irony of The Verve singer Richard Ashcroft singing Bittersweet Symphony with Coldplay live on stage.

All interesting stuff that I’ll be following.

Possible conflict of interest: I think the lead singer of Coldplay, Christopher Martin, is a twat.

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(25) comments

dee
9 years ago ·

Cripes. I can’t believe I never picked up on the similarities. I suppose it’s because Satch’s voice is his guitar and Chris Martin’s is his actual singing voice putting words into the melody (and butchering it). I’m with you Satch. This is disgusting.

harry
9 years ago ·

Thanks for finding those documents. I’ve been curious to read that.

Joe Satriani isn’t very famous in the mainstream, but he’s very well-known and respected in musician circles. He’s a musician’s musician. I can’t imagine any rock musician, especially at a professional level like Coldplay, not being familiar with Joe Satriani. I think his characterization as one of the world’s “premier rock guitarists” is fair.

Ed
9 years ago ·

“There is no doubt that the two songs have the same pace, the same melody, the same chord progression…”

Not totally true. Info from the YouTube comparison video:

“However, for those who are unaware, the tempo and keys HAVE been edited. I would never intend to trick anyone into believing that the two songs were IDENTICAL in these aspects.”

Cheers

Ian
9 years ago ·

Frankly I did pick up on it right away. Coldplay can say all they want but they did rip off the song and they cannot say it was unintentional. They simply thought they would get away with it. Joe is one of the greatest guitarists the world has ever known, he is not much of a singer. If you are into guitar then you have heard of him, no matter what part of the world you live in. If you are not an into instrumental music or are just into pop then you likely may not have heard of him. Either way what Coldplay did was wrong.

Kieren
9 years ago ·

@ Ian: I’m not convinced they ripped him off intentionally, but there’s little doubt that they are very similar. I have it on good authority from my American friends that I am wrong about Joe though – he is extremely well-known in the US. Coming from the UK, I had never heard of him.

@ Ed: Thanks Ed. There you go – should always double-check your sources. I wonder what role tempo will have on the case. But thanks for pointing this out. You can’t always trust what you see on YouTube.

@ Harry: Yes, I’m with you. It’s more me not knowing who Joe Satriani is than the music world. Does Coldplay know of him? It’s possible they don’t – they live in a such a bubble anyway. They know him now, anyway.

Patrick
9 years ago ·

Hello all,

The tempo of ‘If I Could Fly’ is somewhere around 132bpm, ‘Viva La Vida’ is slightly faster at 138bpm. No matter what pace, rhythmically the 4/4 groove sounds simular and creates the same ongoing emotion in both songs.

The chordprogression – aside from it being transposed – is also pretty identical. Satriani uses a IV VII III I chordprogression, Coldplay did too but used and inversion of the IV chord. (Theoretically Coldplay ended up with a VI VII III I progression. If you mess around with a few notes the IV and VI will end up with the same emotional value. This is called a diatonic chord substitution. I know it sounds fancy but it’s a cheap trick.)

In my opinion Coldplay did a bad job trying to cover up their theft as the melody goes basically the same the only difference being that Chris Martin sang it and Joe Satriani played it. The timing is almost identical as are the note intervals following that same line Joe recorded well before 2004 when he released the song on his album ‘Is There Love In Space?’ Pity for Coldplay; Satriani actually has proof of this as he had been demoing ‘If I Could Fly’ ever since 1989.

Patrick
Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Slayer
9 years ago ·

Facts are facts, without any kind of doubt. Satriani makes the same melody and tempo as Coldplay got to copy, I don’t think the guy who is “the Coldplay’s composer” was inspired for himself, however he (or she?) had in their mind that Satriani’s melody cut, also it could be fake or true in the mind-time, the brain is very complex and the music that was surrounding around and around goes on in the final composition (for Coldplay of course).

But the music can’t fake for itself, the youtube video say everything.

JJ
9 years ago ·

I listen to Satriani since 1984, so that’s 24 years now and then you couldn’t be a unknown artist I think..
I believe that almost every melodie already excist and it’s hard to make something totally new and that in the many melodies that are stuck in your head you can accidentally copie one.
So I think coldplay didn’t copy it directly, but the fact is that it is simular copie so they have to give Joe all credits…

Lol
9 years ago ·

If you’ve ever read a guitar mag you’ll have heard of Joe. If you watched the 2008 Olympics you’ll have heard his music. Joe is a rocking tour de force; he has a huge amount of respect as a live performer and recording artist. Instrumentalists always have a harder time becoming well known and accepted/respected than ‘vocal’ bands. That’s just the way it is.

My take on this whole thing (I have both tracks in my collection – I like CP and Satch) is that it doesn’t matter whether CP say it’s just coincidental. The fact is that Joe wrote a cool tune back in ’89 and they’ve recently written something that is extremely similar. Joe wrote it first and has the proof. I’m pretty sure the CP camp thought this would just go away but, if you look at it from Joe’s point of view, it makes sense to protect his intellectual property rights as a musician. The law is there to help the little guy and to allow him to be heard.

Joe doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who would go to this much trouble to get a slice of the CP pie. He’s trying to protect something that he holds dear, just as CP would do if the shoe was on the other foot. However, I don’t particularly trust lawyers and their motivation – which is, generally speaking, money.

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out. I just hope it doesn’t delay things for the Chicken Foot project. That would really suck.

GC
9 years ago ·

The thing I find interesting about this case, is that I don’t think Coldplay would have intentionally “stolen” part of their song from Joe Satriani. The Coldplay song “Talk” on their X&Y album contains a riff from German Band Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” which was a huge hit in Europe in the 80’s. Chris Martin personally wrote to Kraftwerk to get permission to use this in his song. As to whether they have previously heard Joe’s music, I think that’s the crux of the case. I am a Brit living in the US and have been here for 15 years and had never heard of Joe Satriani before this, but on listening to this song it’s clear he is a fantastic guitarist.

Kieren
9 years ago ·

@ JJ, Lol and GC:

So adding together all our views, I think we can agree that:

a) Joe Satriani is a very known guitarist, and very famous in the US, but
b) If are British, you are unlikely to have heard of him, and so
c) Since Coldplay are British – and since they have shown good form in the past about sampling other people’s music – then we can probably take them at their word when they say they did not intentionally steal Satriani’s music BUT
d) This will probably have little bearing on the court case because, let’s be honest, the songs are extremely similar and Joe Satriani clearly has standing and a case because he is so famous.

My money is on Coldplay settling out of court on the condition that Joe Satriani doesn’t disclose details of the deal reached. And Coldplay to acknowledge Joe’s work in future.

Kieren

Kieren
9 years ago ·

@ Patrick: Thanks very much for this. You can clearly hear the chord progression is the same but it’s great to have a musician with more than a layperson’s knowledge confirm and provide extra info.

I don’t think that Coldplay intentionally stole the music though. I think it is just one of this unusual coincidences. Not that that will affect the court case – how do you prove an unusual coincidence?

Billy
9 years ago ·

Am I correct in sensing your tongue-in-cheek manner of describing the way Satriani is described in the court docs? It is a fair description in light of his international success. They certainly acknowledged Coldplay’s success and accomplishments.

Kieren
9 years ago ·

@ Billy: You mean “premier rock guitarists”? Yes, I do think that phrase is hilarious. “Hi, what’s your name?” “Joe.” “And what do you do, Joe?” “I’m one of the world’s premier rock guitarists…”

I’m not sure I can explain why that is so funny to me, but it is. Having listened to a bit of Joe Satriani now, I have to say though that he plays a mean guitar.

Navid
9 years ago ·

The fact that some people here are saying “…..if you are a guitar player you have heard of Joe Satriani….” is complete nonsense! I am a guitar player myself and indeed, read music magazines all the time and have never ever heard of this guy. Because of this case, I went around curiously asking people if they know him (my family, friends, my college mates, old school mates, my old school’s band members and even the guitar teacher!), and absolutely no one knew who he was. I live in UK and im sure that the only place people might have heard of him is America! What these Satriani fanboys don’t realize is that for a band like Coldplay who are arguably the biggest band on the planet right now and with all their success, its impossible that they steal a song. Coldplay only ever go to America for tours, and so im not even sure they have heard of him either! And as GC pointed out before, Chris would inform both the fans and the guys whom he has taken the riffs off, and get permission.

“Viva La Vida” is 4 minutes and 2 seconds long and every musical sound that you can hear in this song is entirely different and in another world, except probably about 15 seconds of Chris singing; which does NOT even “create the same ongoing emotion in both songs”!!! And yet some people are saying the main chord is the same! WHAT?!!! Have you even heard Viva La Vida?! Listen from around 1:10 and tell me what on earth possessed you to think that’s the same! What makes me laugh is the unbelievably ridiculously out of turn comments he’s made in the document : “the premiere rock guitarist in the past two decades” or “Coldplay copied and incorporated substantial, original portions of plaintiff’s composition”!!

Wake up people. When you read the document its impossible not to notice the fact that he’s after money; AND publicity! After all, me and billions of other people didn’t know who this guy was, but with suing a famous band like Coldplay, he made everyone to go and listen to his song!!!

GC
9 years ago ·

Thanks Kieran. Just to show that I am an ignorant Brit, I was over at a friend’s house in Boston the other day, he plays electric guitar casually, and we were discussing this case. After I told him I had never heard of Joe Satriani, he brought out a couple of Joe’s CD’s from his collection and told me that indeed he is very well known over here and well respected amongst rock guitarists.
I agree that Coldplay will probably bite the bullet and will come up with some sort of settlement to make this go away. I guarantee they will be much more careful with future recordings.

Miles
9 years ago ·

listen to the two songs back to back. how similar do they “feel”. So many make comments based on that youtube video and not actually listening to the two songs in full. The riff Joe uses is played twice in the song. Is that “substantial” in a 4 minute song? I don’t know. And Coldplay uses a similar one on the vocal line(far from identical), but its not even in the chorus. There is so much more to Viva la Vida than those 8 bars of music. It hardly makes up the basis of the song. These songs are a lot more different than they are alike. Last time i checked using a very common chord progression in music is not plagiarism. The riff, to me, isn’t similar enough. They start and end on the same note. The note they go up to is also a different interval. It’s not enough.

Mike
9 years ago ·

“…for a band like Coldplay who are arguably the biggest band on the planet right now and with all their success, its impossible that they steal a song.”

So if you are famous, it’s not possible for you to steal something? This is by far the most ridiculous statement I’ve read all day…

Kieren- Great blog! One quick thing though, I don’t think it was the Supremes that Harrison got into hot water with. I think it was the Chiffons.
But as far as Chris Martin being a twat, you were spot on.

Nineteen
8 years ago ·

The two songs coincidentally sound alike. They have different chord progressions, different instruments, different tempos, the key was changed in that video so that they would be the same pitch, and most importantly, for there to be a valid case, you have to have an exact 8 note phrase copied. The best thing about it all, is that Satriani didn’t even say anything about it until Coldplay was tapped for an award for the song. It baffles me why this has lasted as long as it has.

James
8 years ago ·

Message to post 15

Navid!
How can you be a guitar player, read all the magazines and not heard of Joe!!!! I mean, come on! ! ! ! Im from the UK and hes bloody everywhere, all over guitar magazines! You must be a very new guitar player – in fact I find it hard to believe – you truly are WEIRD.

Joe
8 years ago ·

Well, if you ask me the whole thing is silly. There are videos on youtube saying that Joe Satriani actually took his riff from part of Cat Stevens song Heaven. Who is right and does it really matter that much? I mean unless it is absolutly identical, then this just opens the door for thousands of lawsuits in which songs are similar.

bhupendra
8 years ago ·

I’m from India but working now Nepal now and in both countries Joe Satriani is very well known. He’s come to India a few times but never to Nepal but even young people who are not into rock music (but do listen to western music) have heard his name. I’ve been a fan since 1991 but I would have to say that unless Cold Play did it deliberately there is nothing wrong, and even if they did, how can you prove it? And I very much doubt Mr. Satriani would pull such a stunt for money or even publicity. That is absolutely absurd.

Jon
8 years ago ·

“a) Joe Satriani is a very known guitarist, and very famous in the US, but
b) If are British, you are unlikely to have heard of him”

What a load of crap, I’m English and I have been going to Satriani gigs since 1989, I now live in Sydney Australia where last year he sold out 2 nights at the Enmore Theatre and the previous year the Hordern Pavillion with his G3 concert.

[…] the full article and download all four filings in case CV08-07987 at kierenmccarthy.com here [thanks to Coldplayzone.it for the heads up about the […]

[…] well, its record company Capitol – was granted an extension for filing its response to the Joe Satriani court case where he claims Coldplay ripped off his If I Could Fly single in their single Viva la […]

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