Within the ever-evolving sphere of musical copyright law, inspiration can easily tip into infringement, and even a song's unique 'feel' might be protected under intellectual property rights. Copyright law gives creators powerful legal rights to decide if and how others can use their work and, in some cases, whether they pay millions in compensation as a result of unauthorized use. Changes in the copyright law and interpretation by the courts over the past several years have led to a shift in the ways that music copyright is understood and enforced. Professor Joseph Fishman (Vanderbilt Law School) examines the elements of a music infringement case and guides listeners on a journey (replete with examples) to discover the current state of copyright law.
High-profile cases such as the "Blurred Lines" and "Stairway to Heaven" infringement lawsuits provide vivid examples of the modern landscape of music copyright law. In the "Blurred Lines" case, the estate of Marvin Gaye successfully sued Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for copyright infringement, claiming that their hit song "Blurred Lines" substantially copied Gaye's "Got to Give It Up". Conversely, in the "Stairway to Heaven" case, Led Zeppelin was accused of copying the opening riff of their iconic song from Spirit's "Taurus", but they successfully defended themselves, illustrating the complex and nuanced interpretations of the law. Prof. Fishman uses these cases, along with others involving artists including Taylor Swift, Puff Daddy, George Harrison, Michael Bolton, and others to demonstrate the intricacies of distinguishing between inspiration and infringement in navigating this challenging and fast-changing legal terrain.