Coldplay v Satriani-It’s good to “Talk”
After a high-profile dispute which looked as if it were heading towards a Trial, Coldplay have settled the copyright claim brought against them by legendary guitar player Joe Satriani.
Satriani issued proceedings against the Band alleging that “Viva La Vida”, one of their most successful and iconic hits as well as the soundtrack to Apple’s most recent ad campaign for the iPod, was based upon his instrumental “If I Could Fly”.
Coldplay, however, denied any connection between the two and told the media that any similarity between the song was a surprise to them, as well as making it very clear that the claim would be defended as far as necessary.
Steve Kuncewicz, Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Lawyer at Ralli in Manchester, had the following comment on the settlement:
“Documents from California’s Central District Court show that the Satriani’s case against the British band was dropped “upon stipulation”. This suggests that a deal has been done between the parties, which may or may not inlcude a payout in Satriani’s favour.
Before leaping to the conclusion that they should have fought the case if they didn’t copy the song, it’s worth bearing in mind what Coldplay had to lose if the case went against them.
The case began in December last year, with Satriani, claiming damages and “any profits attributable to the alleged copyright infringement”.
This is what could have been claimed in the English Court had the case been fought over here.
If copyright infringement can be demonstrated to the Court, then the usual award is either damages for the royalties which the Artist would have made if they had done a deal with whoever has allegedly copied their work or an “account of profits”. This would see all of the profits made from such a hugely iconic song handed over to Satriani.
As any good litigator will tell you, taking a case to trial is a calculated risk. In fact, pursuing infringers of your copyright and deciding how far to push a case is a very complicated exercise in risk management. Any Judge, no matter how skilled, will make a judgment based on the case before him and there are very few cases where you can guarantee that they will find in your favour.
Settling this case is very sensible, as music Copyright cases are notoriously tricky and the test for whether or not a song has been copied-whether or not a “substantial part” of the original has been used, is a matter of fact in each case.
Unless the songs in question really are identical or contain a sample of another which hasn’t been cleared, and you’re willing to gamble the profits you make on a well-known composition, then it may be a risk not worth taking, especially in an industry where it’s increasingly difficult to turn a profit.
Interestingly, Coldplay asked for a Jury Trial. This wouldn’t happen in England and was even more risky as members of the public would make the final decision on whether the Band really had copied the song.
The last few years have seen some genuinely scary precedents, all starting when George Harrison was found to have “subconciously copied” an earlier dong in “My Sweet Lord” and The Verve making very little profit from “Bittersweet Symphony” after failing to clear a sample from the Rolling Stones, who ironically found themselves accused of the same thing by kd Lang shortly thereafter.
That said, if you are an Artist and your work has been copied, you may not be able to afford not to take action as a deterrent against further copying. You should always be willing to do so, but always willing to know how far you are willing to push your case and when to consider settlement. If not, in the words of the Clash,you may fight the Law, but the law may win.”