Music: we all love it. Inevitably, one of its many forms has held your mind hostage. You’ve certainly developed a taste for a specific genre, as certain lyrical and musical styles satisfied your antipathy of silence better than others. Everyone knows these genres have patterns that make them unique. That’s the very essence of music: patterns that feel right. In recent years, people have been claiming to own these genre-defining patterns, resulting in countless court cases over inevitable, fickle parallels. If we wish to encourage artistic endeavours, we must set better rules around what can and cannot be owned in music.

These cases are most often filed around pop music, a genre defined by artists taking inspiration from their peers. In 2019, a jury found pop megastar Katy Perry and her songwriters guilty of stealing large portions of their song “Dark Horse” from an obscure 2009 Christian rap song. The New York Times reported that “Perry and [her producer] testified that they had never heard [the claimant’s song]” before writing “Dark Horse.” A jury made up of non musicians that have likely never written a song would have no expertise or way of knowing whether or not Perry’s claims of innocence were plausible, resulting in unjust verdicts. This case goes to show that commonalities are unavoidable in an art form like music, with its restrictive nature and surfeit of artists all working diligently towards glory.

The idea that the claimants had ownership of the descending minor chord melody found in the two songs is ludicrous; there are numerous pieces of music throughout history that use this same tune. These sounds are the very basics of music, and according to Vox’s Pop expert Charlie Harding, “no one should be able to own these core building blocks [of music] for the good of all past, present and future art.” To compare it to visual art, situations involving the claimed ownership of chord progressions and basic melodies are similar to if a painter claimed to have been the first to use blue, green, and purple, and therefore, no one else should be able to do so without their permission. Obviously, this is an outlandish claim to make with inconspicuous intentions of fast cash; however, juries have been validating these claims in cases such as Perry’s. Compared to other art forms, music is already restrictive enough; while there can be infinitely many songs, only very few will be appealing to the masses; and if we allow artists to stake claims to the “primary colors” of music, the result will be a massive monochromatic mess.

{p style=”text-align: right;”}Jackson Puent

{p style=”text-align: right;”}VAHS junior