Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 May 2019

A slippery stairway

At what point does being influenced by a piece of music become imitation?
British rock musician and former guitarist for Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page smiles at fans in Toronto (REUTERS/Hans Deryk)
British rock musician and former guitarist for Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page smiles at fans in Toronto (REUTERS/Hans Deryk)

For Led Zeppelin, at least, this month brought relief when a US judge ruled that their classic song Stairway to Heaven was not plagiarised from another song written in 1968. Such comfort was not available to Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke, who had to pay Marvin Gaye’s estate $5.3 million (Dh19.47m) for plagiarising Got to Give It Up in their song Blurred Lines.

The line between influence and imitation can be tricky, particularly in music, where artists may hear tens of thousands of songs during their career. Where does the memory of part of a song from 20 years ago become the actual intention to copy? And can the cold touch of the courts really judge the messy business of music?

These are complex topics without clear answers. But the main threat from these court cases is that they may stop artists being creative and experimenting, lest they are accused. That would be the worst sort of chilling effect on creativity, and one that would serve neither artists nor audiences.

Updated: June 29, 2016 04:00 AM

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