When does similarity become plagiarism?

Tom Petty receives writing credit on Sam Smith hit Stay With Me

This recent article in the Globe and Mail reminded me of our class discussion on stand-up comedians and the lack of protection for their jokes, and the problems that may arise from trying to create legal protections. I see somewhat of a parallel problem in songwriters and their songs. In my view I think sometimes songs are so similar that it’s hard to determine whether one is sufficiently similar to another to warrant some sort of legal action. In this case, Sam Smith now has to pay royalties to Tom Petty.

If you listen to the two songs, in my opinion, they are generally very different save for a few notes, and they are definitely different in terms of musical style. I don’t think I would have ever mistaken the Tom Petty song for the Sam Smith song. As well, in music, there are only so many notes and chords that go well together –  think about all the generic rock songs where you have mistaken one song for another (mainly because they use the same three chords throughout!).

If we view Sam Smith as a ‘connector’ rather than a ‘creator’, does this change our view of law’s normative function in this case?

Another good article concerning these two songs asks – “when does similarity become plagiarism“?

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