Joe Satriani vs. Coldplay: Station Conversation

NTV StationIn this week’s edition of Station Conversation, Liz Shannon Miller and Jill Weinberger lock horns over the Coldplay/Joe Satriani controversy. When does musical influence become outright theft? Are online video makers the new vigilantes of injustice? And how many songs, exactly, go “do do do, do do do do do do do do?” You be the judge.

Liz: So this morning, we address the case of Joe Satriani vs. the band Coldplay. For the plaintiff, Jill Weinberger. For the defendant, Liz Miller. Plaintiff, make your case.

Jill: I submit to you video/audio Exhibit A. — Joe Satriani’s If I Could Fly, which sounds a lot like Coldplay’s Vida La Vida. And I’d like to point out to the court, that as I believe has been previously established in this forum, if it’s on the Internet, IT MUST BE TRUE.

Liz: So noted.

Jill: Plus that is an awfully similar do do do, do do do do do do do do.

Liz: Speaking for the defense, do do do, do do do do do could be a lot of songs.

Jill: Well, sure, in IM.

Liz: And note that the tempo and key for both songs are slightly different.

Jill: It’s not that much less than what got George Harrison’s butt in a sling back in the day.

Liz: What’s that about George Harrison?

Jill: Good God, you’re a fetus. George Harrison got sued because My Sweet Lord was so similar to the Chiffons’ song He’s So Fine. And he lost.

Liz: Oh, yeah, those songs are really similar — not just in terms of melody, but in execution. But — and here is where I think the situation is different — the Satriani track has a totally different style from the Coldplay tune.

Jill: But would you have thought so then, had you been a huge George Harrison fan? Keeping in mind that in the Harrison case, he was found to have unintentionally copied it, not plagiarized it.

Liz: Well, it’s true that I have a problem right now where if I don’t listen to Vida La Vida at least once a week, I start twitching. Even if I weren’t a Coldplay fan, though, I’d probably stand by this position.

Jill: But if there is an actual legal possibility between complete originality and outright theft — that middle ground of unintentional copying — can you be so sure that even THAT is not the case?

Liz: Well, even if they were directly inspired by Satriani, you can’t deny that they’ve taken his melody and really made it their own.

Jill: All I know is, when you layer in the Satriani track to the Coldplay song, it really does sound like it could be Satriani playing a guest guitar solo at a Coldplay concert. Which to me indicates a pretty decent closeness.

But can’t a good editor line up almost anything? ‘Cause there are a lot of those “this sounds similar” videos.

I mean, this person has at least three, with many many songs in each.

Liz: Wow, each of these videos is really long. This guy is dedicated to the cause.

Jill: This one is shorter. Plus, anti-Avril.

Liz: A lot of these are really stretching it, if you ask me.

Jill: The problem with early rock is that so much of it used classic blues chord progressions. Being built on the same foundation is going to make for similarity. Sure, Sweet Little 16 and Surfin’ USA sound pretty close, but I’m not sure what you can draw from it.

Liz: And the sheer amount of music being produced these days means that unconscious imitation is kind of inevitable. It’s an interesting use of online video, though. Combining the song clips with text and graphics makes these videos extremely efficient at communicating their point.

I actually really like the bit of the Coldplay/Satriani mash-up in which the two versions are layered on top of each other. It’s fun — the songs do work well together.

Jill: The thing about these videos, is that whether or not there is real theft involved, it’s kind of a manifestation of the online video thing where people are trying to be important and relevant and to rail against injustice…and yet they’re not using their real names or, you know, accomplishing anything.

Liz: Well, in this case, Coldplay is forced to release a statement claiming no wrong-doing. So that’s a slight accomplishment.

Jill: Perhaps in the pop culture world, these videos are the next new forum for investigative journalism — where anyone can bring something unnoticed to light and have it become news?

Liz: The important thing is that standards remain. This is why it is good for us to have both the Internet and mainstream media.

Jill: And FOR REALZ SRIUS JOURNALISTZ like us that straddle the line.

Liz: Yep. First, the crazy people have their say. And then we find the ones who are less crazy and write about them. And then the New York Times covers it. And the cycle continues.

Jill: So my place in the food chain is somewhere between the people who aggressively listen to Avril songs, on the alert for wrongdoing, and the NYT? I can totally live with that.

Liz: Our niche is an odd but important one. Well, important by the loosest possible definition of the word.

Jill: To be fair, we haven’t actually figured out whether this Coldplay/Satriani thing is an issue or not.

Liz: The problem with our Internet courtroom is that we don’t have a jury here. We have to rely on humble and wise commentators to rule in the decision.

Jill: We put it to you, commentators: Coincidence, unintentional copying, or…THIEVING THIEVERS WHO THIEVE LIKE THIEVES WHO LIKE THEFT?

Liz: Please note before making your decision that Chris Martin is hilarious.

Jill: Chris Martin is a bajillionaire married to Gwyneth Paltrow and needs no favors from anyone. (I am not afraid to play on the resentments of the less advantaged — i.e. anyone who is not a bajillionaire married to Gwyneth Paltrow.)

Liz: I, meanwhile, am not afraid to invoke Ricky Gervais’s Extras to win my case.

Jill: I would wager that, as many fans as Extras has, there are a lot more people who resent Gwyneth Paltrow. Just think of Chris, driving home in his car full of money to Gwynnie and little Apple and Moses. Is all I’m saying.

But let the readers decide.

Liz: (Pssst! Readers! Jill secretly hates you. Not like me! I love you. I want you to be happy. Jill wants you to be sad. That’s why she doesn’t want you to listen to Coldplay. Because she hates you.)

Jill: HEY! NOT COOL!

This review, along with more details about the show, can be found at NewTeeVee Station.