Dua Lipa's dual demands explained: Musicologists assess levitating similarities (2023)


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Dua Lipa was the target of two lawsuits this month over her hit "Levitating".

The first of the copyright infringement lawsuits came from Florida reggae band Artikal Sound System, who accused Lipa of copying their 2017 song "Live Your Life". The second comes from songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer, who claim Lipa stole two of her songs—"Wiggle and Giggle All Night" (1979) and "Don Diablo" (1980).

Variety spoke to musicologist E. Michael Harrington, who was advising Katy Perry's Dark Horse case and was approached by Linzer and Brown in their attempt to defeat Lipa; and Judith Finell, who provided expert historical testimony on behalf of the Marvin Gaye Estate in the infamous Blurred Lines case.

While "Levitating" certainly has similarities to the plaintiffs' work, Harrington and Finell explain why establishing a violation takes more than meets the eye.

sound similarities

"Similarity is almost always irrelevant," says Harrington, pointing out that music in a given style is often based on the same musical ideas and patterns that define the genre.

Harrington points out that there are only 12 notes in western music. However, the vast majority of popular music is limited to a fraction of that, as there are only seven notes in the major scale.

Harrington compares it to a conversation within the confines of the English language: “Sometimes this word leads to this word, leads to this word. The same goes for sheet music... What the judges need to understand is that you can independently create the same score without copying it.

As analyzed in a YouTube video by music theorist Adam Neely, "Levitating" and "Live Your Life" are in the key of B minor and clock in at around 100 beats per minute. Both choruses contain the Bm7-F#m7-Em7 chord progression, but "Levitating" resolves to Bm7 (or the "one") while "Live Your Life" stays at Em7. According to Neely, the notes sung in each chorus also show a similar pattern when compared to pitch. The lyrics are also notable. The chorus of "Life Your Life" is "All day, all night / Party to the sunshine", while "Levitating" follows a similar rhyme scheme and also contains the lyrics: "I need you, all the night / Come on, Tanz mit" for me. "

Says Neely: “The melodies on 'Levitating' and 'Live Your Life' are almost identical. The same notes in key are aligned with the same beats with the same rhythm... what is called Charleston: a dotted eighth note, followed by a sixteenth note, followed by a rest. Despite this, Neely believes that Artikal Sound System has no reason to complain.

Even if audio recordings sound the same at first glance, it's important to remember that musical aspects such as tone, tempo, and instrumentation are not copyrighted. . The supposed lyrical similarities? According to Harrington, it is "stupid" to suggest that using some "common" words in a pop hook is a criminal offence.

According to Finell, copyrights are “specific sets of musical expressions – not ideas, but expressions. It means a set of letters, a set of pitches or rhythms that make up a melody, a set of chords or harmonies, and other types of identifiable characteristics. Songs can share style and not end up in a copyright lawsuit. But when they share genuine and genuinely identifiable copyrighted creative traits, lawsuits ensue.

"Wiggle and Giggle All Night" and "Don Diablo" share a similar vocal melody in the verse of "Levitating", but there are no other major musical similarities.

prove access

For a plaintiff to win an infringement suit, one of the things he must show is that the defendant had access to his work, showing that he could reasonably have viewed or copied it. There are three theories of access that plaintiffs can use: chain of events theory (proving that the copyrighted work was transmitted to the defendant), combination of mass distribution and involuntary copying (proving that the copyrighted work was widely distributed by radio, television or the Internet) or show a striking similarity (proving that the two works are so similar that there is no explanation other than copying).

It is likely that Artikal Sound System is hoping to demonstrate a striking similarity, as the reggae band claims in their lawsuit that the songs are so similar that it is "highly unlikely" that "Levitating" was created independently.

In the other lawsuit, lawyers for Brown and Linzer cite interviews in which Lipa "admitted that she was consciously imitating earlier eras" and was "inspired" to create a "retro" sound. However, emulating eras and being inspired to create a retro sound is far from copyright infringement.

One of the focal points of the Blurred Lines essay was a 2013 interview with GQ in which Robin Thicke said, "Pharrell [Williams] and I were in the studio and I told him that one of my favorite songs of all time was 'Got to Give It Up" by Marvin Gaye. I thought, 'Damn, we should do something like this, something with this rhythm.' "While inspiration does not equal insult, the quote provided the Gaye estate with an explicit connection between 'Got to Give It Up' and 'Blurred Lines,' and it worked against Thicke and Williams during the trial.

The writing process for "Levitating" is also well documented, but in this case it works in Lipa's favor. Notably, in a 2020 episode of the Song Exploder podcast, the pop star and collaborators discuss how the intro synth loop "almost immediately" led to the creation of a verse and chorus.

Finell notes that the creative process behind the song is unrelated to the "level of similarity". However, it is one of many extra-musical factors that can influence a jury.

state of art

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for Artikal Sound System, Brown and Linzer is that all works considered are based on the state of the art.

“There are 140 words in copyright law. The most important thing is original. It says, 'Copyright protection resides in the author's original work,'" says Harrington. "There are rulings that say something is not original enough to be protected. »

In other words, while the plaintiffs allege that Lipa violated their copyrighted expression, the very ideas they claim are original are found in several examples of earlier songs, making their case for originality rather flimsy.

Neely points out that Charleston rhythm is nothing new and has been used extensively in songs by the Jackson 5, DNCE, and perhaps most notably Outkast's "Rosa Parks" to name a few. some. The chord progression of "Live Your Life" is also extremely simple and can be heard in previous songs like "Evil Woman" by Electric Light Orchestra. According to Harrington, the central melody of "Wiggle and Giggle All Night" and "Don Diablo" appears in an earlier song by Hank Williams.

To establish infringement, authors must demonstrate that their own work is sufficiently original. If so, it could be an uphill battle.

What happens next?

While it's possible for these lawsuits to be tried by jury, Lipa could also try to settle out of court, a trend that seems to have accelerated in the years since the Blurred Lines case.

After the verdict, Howard King, attorney for Thicke and Williams, told Rolling Stone: "I feel like I've let songwriters all over the world down by helping to set this horrible precedent that someone was... the same but is materially different - and if they can find eight people who don't read sheet music, they can win.

While the impact of this lawsuit may have been exaggerated in the years immediately following (Finell says there are "many misconceptions about the Blurred Lines case and its impact on creativity", while Harrington admits that the number of frivolous copyright lawsuits "seems to have disappeared" ), it seemed like something of an apocalypse for songwriters for a few years. For example, in 2015, Jidenna, afraid to preemptively drop out of writing Iggy Azalea for her song "Classic Man", for fear of walking away. He said on Hot 97: "Since Robin Thicke and Pharrell's decision, we felt it was important to make sure we're safe." When Robin Thicke's verdict came out, we realized the game had changed on music.

The "Blurred Lines" case united the musicians against what they considered frivolous lawsuits. In 2016, 212 artists, songwriters, producers, musicologists and other music professionals rallied in support of Thicke and Williams and submitted an amicus letter arguing that the court "needs to restore copyright boundaries to secure the future... of source of existing works.

Harrington says he and presumably other musicologists contacted by Brown and Linzer declined to participate in Lipa's lawsuit because he believes "Levitating" is not an example of copyright infringement. With prominent music theorists speaking out against the lawsuit and experts reluctant to join the fight against Lipa, only time will tell if the pop star will face legal action, settle out of court or get away with it.

Below you will find the respective works. You are the judge.

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