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Why IP Issues Are So Common in the Arts

Lately, it seems that many modern pop songs have been under fire for copyright infringement. Artists seem to be inspired by past lyrics or chord progressions so much so that they incorporate them into their next big hit. Some artists, like Olivia Rodrigo, have even spoken about what artists and songs inspired their own albums. In many cases, creators hope to give credit to artists for their work. But when artists, whether it be musicians, painters or even authors, draw inspiration from others, it begs the question: what is the difference between copyright infringement and inspiration?

Intellectual property issues are common among artists. Oftentimes, artists are unaware they are infringing upon another artists’ intellectual property, though unfortunately there are cases where people think they can get away with taking credit for another’s work. It is therefore important to be well-versed in IP issues so that you can avoid not only taking someone else’s idea, but falling prey to it happening to you.

Copyright Infringement

Ultimately, artists want — and deserve — credit for their work. Registering for a copyright is an important way of protecting creative works, but artists should be aware of the nuances.  According to the World Intellectual Property Organization:

“For a work to be protected by copyright, it must be original and contain an expression of the author’s creativity. The amount of originality or creativity needed to pass the threshold is not high; a change in color or medium is not enough to pass the threshold, but a change in angle or lighting might be.”

An example of this would be artist Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square. While the painting is simple, there is a distinct look to the color and style of the black square. Malevich doesn’t own the rights to the shape or color by any means, but an artist cannot simply change the color of the square and call it an original work. The style in which the square is painted is unique enough and must be credited to avoid a potential copyright lawsuit.

Kazimir Malevich’s - Black Square

How to Avoid Copyright Infringement 

Copyright issues are prevalent in the arts for two reasons:

  1. New artists’ variations aren’t unique enough to call the work their own
  2. New artists do not properly credit the work and creator they are incorporating

Avoiding copyright issues can be tricky, especially if the derivation is questionable in the first place. Many artists don’t even realize they are using similar phrases, notes or techniques as someone else, and they find themselves in trouble with copying something without meaning to at all. Other times, artists may simply give credit to another to ensure their work can be used while acknowledging it may be similar to another’s.

In music, credit is typically given through either sampling or interpolation. The former involves taking snippets from a piece of music and incorporating them into your own work as a novel composition. For example, Drake sampled Lauryn Hill’s iconic song “Ex-Factor” in 2018.

Drake - Nice For What album coverLauryn Hill - Ex-Factor album cover

The Canadian rapper looped and sped up the breakdown of Hill’s song and used it as the backdrop for his hit single “Nice For What.” Because Hill also sampled “Can It All Be So Simple / Intermission” by Wu-Tang Clan in her original song, members of the rap group are given song credits on Drake’s 2018 track.

Interpolation is when a song (or parts of a song) is recreated note-for-note and still reflects the underlying composition of the original, which is what Rodrigo opts for in two specific instances on her 2021 debut album “SOUR.”

Riffs on the songs “deja vu” and “good 4 u” are similar in sound to “Cruel Summer” by Taylor Swift and “Misery Business” by the band Paramore. Moreover, both Swift and members from Paramore are listed in each song’s credits.

Billboard reports that Paramore members could be receiving around $1.2 million in publishing royalties following the huge success of “good 4 u,” with Swift and other credited writers not far behind. With figures like that it becomes more clear why writing credits were necessary.

Protect Your Intellectual Property with Patterson Thuente

Because copyright infringement is an easy pitfall for artists due to the subjective nature of art, it is important to consult with an experienced IP attorney to ensure you are giving – and receiving – proper credit for your work.

Your intellectual property is valuable. As an artist and creator, you deserve the credit for what you do. Taking the right steps to ensure your work is protected and credited is key. With Patterson Thuente, we will work to keep your intellectual property yours. Contact us for your IP needs.


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