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Music Legal Opportunism (or Why I Own All Your Music)

Short of a buck? Why not dabble in the lucrative growth business of Music Legal Opportunism

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[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]I[/dropcap] was thinking that I might get my solicitors, Sue, Grabbit and Run to sue the Whole Music World for ripping off my music and lyrics.

They’ll do it on a No Win No Fee basis, but I am pretty confident that very soon the Rights to All Music Ever will be mine and I will own Everything, including Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, The Zep and a lot of other Dead People. There are a number of reasons as to why I may resort to this.

First: When I was small and needed to sit on three cushions to play the piano, my favourite Aunty Winnie used to shut me in her parlour while I practiced my composition ‘Thunder and Lightning’ using my open palms and fists in a highly creative and original way. At the same time, I would sing loudly, mainly on one note, about Maureen with The Pony Tail, how my evil parents were trying to end my world, Misery and building exploding boats made out of Meccano.

Only yesterday, I heard the Crush Metal band, Bruised Eyeballs using those very same random fist actions in their so-called original composition ‘Maureen’s Plaits’. I was angry, I can tell you.

Second: Whilst busy composing in Winnie’s parlour, I stumbled across the idea that if I played ‘Thunder and Lightning’ in sections of twelve repeated Bashbits and then repeated the bit about Maureen and the Meccano in the middle, it would last exactly long enough to end just as Aunty Win came in with the Tizer and some bars of Kit Kat. She and I decided, over a drink, that my original work should be called The Twelve Kit Kat Bar Basheroo. You must agree that it has quite obviously been copied, sampled, nicked and ripped off ever since. I haven’t seen a penny.

Third: At that time my little hands could not span an octave so I used two hands and in doing so I invented the trick Arpeggio and, by playing on the black notes and white notes in turn, I clearly invented Minor and Major stuff too. Next time you go to a gig, suss out the keyboard player. I guarantee he will be using both arpeggios and black and white notes.Music Legal Opportunism

Fourth: After a few divorces and a reckless plunge into the art market, I need to get my hands on some money to support all my expensive habits. I have been looking around for a dodgy grey area of the market that might be fertile ground for some gratuitous funding. I was thinking about a Wind Farm or some forest in Scotland but my friends at SG & R said they had spotted Old Music as a prime growth area.

Fifth: SGR’s beautifully-suited ‘Music is Fair Game’ specialist attorney, tells me that cover versions of ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Hallelujah’ are now the high spots of X Factor and in addition the BBC is rushing out whole weekends of Fifties and Sixties music – where much ownership and royalties were agreed in a dark club between ‘Jack The Weasel’s Record Company’ and the ‘What Planet Are We On I Just Wanna Play Music’ musician.

He keeps sending me bottles of Stoly and telling me The Time is Right. He has a great line in cliches, like most lawyers, but he knows an opening when he sees one and reckons that Leonard Cohen’s ‘secret chord’ is probably one of my Thunder and Lightning chords.

Six: Should anyone foolishly try to suggest that other people did this before the ‘Thunder and Lightning Break-Through’, we will take them on an expensive six month tour through my family genealogy and point out my connections to madrigal players, Shakespearean Hautbois and my earlier musical predecessors. Stick that bill in your expensive Attorney’s pipe.

Seven: He has also pointed out that a lot of the people involved in this ‘It’s mine and I’ll sue you’ malarkey are either dead, ill or in Fairy Land, and consequently all those supposed ‘spit on the hand’ deals are hard to substantiate. If I were to put all my Aunt Winnie’s relatives on the stand (she, alas, is Upstairs now, singing along to one of my compositions) and I offered half my proceeds to music charities, any court in the land (by which I mean America) would agree with me and not only would we clean up, but I would become a modern day folk hero.

Ok. You’re Right. This is not a joke. No musician (or indeed, any creative artist) likes his or her work being hi-jacked, stolen or generally ripped off without any attribution, financial or otherwise. Hours, weeks, months and years may have gone into creating a piece. Although it is nothing new, over the last decade or so ‘sampling’ has become a quite common aspect of modern music and nowadays there are usually some solid arrangements in place and it gets done with agreement. Whether you have any time for those who do this to earn a living, is quite another matter.

However, when it is done blatantly without agreement it is Theft. Ask The Verve how expensive that can be. Also, every day, a thousand bands do a thousand cover versions of famous pieces of music. Again, that may not be your bag, but (to be very kind) they are probably not intending to overtly steal creativity and disguise it as their own. They put their hands up, publicly attribute – and we all understand what is going on.

Nowadays, musicians are much more savvy about protecting their material in both music and lyric form. They have better knowledge, better legal support, unions and hopefully, better informed managers and agents. It has long been the case that the lyric writer will be the recipient of richer rewards and the history of lyric ownership in particular is littered with the battered bodies of those who have fought and failed to clarify ownership.

Again, that situation has changed radically for the better but occasionally when the sale of a song collection comes on the market the swords and writs get flourished once more. There are handsome prizes to be won.

However, what has emerged of late, is not the justifiable prosecution of Intellectual and Copyright Theft but what is becoming to look like a growth business in Music Legal Opportunism. It would seem that out there in the world of litigation, there are people employed to look for musical similarities, resonances, note groupings – even an ‘atmospheric’ likeness to previous work.

This in turn has produced an industry of university ‘professors’, ‘musicologists’ and sundry ‘experts’ who somehow are looked to as the people who may ‘know’ whether a piece has been ‘stolen’ or not. Nobody, it seems is bothering to consult any musicians.

Clearly there have been many injustices which date from an earlier period, a lot from the fifties and sixties, when for many it seemed at the time, legal rights ownership was not a priority. Absolutely, some of these were wholesale fraud, some a clever adoptive sleight of hand; others were just crap lax management and quite rightly, justice must be seen to be done and compensation is due. Even today there are villains out there looking to take advantage of the unsuspecting and innocent.

But musicians are, for the most part, getting smarter.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the hind-sighted public forensic analysis of the structure, notation and style of the composition of an established piece of work – that may have first been dreamed up by an artist on the back of an envelope – then we are now entering the world of Litigation LaLa Land. Listening to a lawyer struggling to claim that the whole of a piece of music has been stolen because the opening arpeggio was ‘similar’ to one used elsewhere would be funny if it were not so sad and damaging.

The idea that serious musicians cast around looking for stuff to nick, when their whole raison d’etre is to produce something original is laughable. The scoundrels will sink. The originals will fly. We know that. However, when it comes to Music and Finance, all the lawyers in this area of litigation are Tone Deaf.

Anyway, soon I will own everything… or so Sue, Grabbit and Run keep telling me. Trust me. Your music will be safe with me.


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