Sam Smith, Tom Petty and Copyright Infringement

MARCUS OWEN/STARTRAKS PHOTO; C FLANIGAN/FILMMAGIC

MARCUS OWEN/STARTRAKS PHOTO; C FLANIGAN/FILMMAGIC

Perhaps one of the most common controversies in the music industry is copyright, sampling and re-using of other people’s material, and the use of soundbites in radio commercials. Among those, however, is blatant similarities between two songs. This debate brings up the question of whether or not some songs are total coincidences or complete ripoffs.

This past weekend, The Sun reported Sam Smith and Tom Petty had a dispute, which related to this very topic. Recent reports suggest Sam Smith’s three-time Grammy-nominated hit “Stay With Me” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” were the subjects of an amicably settled copyright dispute. Rolling Stone Magazine released a statement confirming that Tom Petty now has been co-credited to Smith’s “Stay With Me” along with co-writer Jeff Lynne of “I Won’t Back Down.”

Additionally, Rolling Stone Magazine explains in an article released this week that the publishers for Petty’s song contacted the publishers for Smith’s “Stay With Me,” about similarities they detected in the melodies of the choruses of both songs. Smith’s rep explained he was not familiar with the 1989 Petty and Lynne song previously to writing “Stay With Me.” However, after listening to “I Won’t Back Down,” he acknowledged the similarity.

This is just one instance where this has come up. In fact, other artists have undergone this same issue including George Harrison with his song “My Sweet Lord” vs. “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, written by Ronnie Mack. Other songs include “Rudy Can’t Fail” by The Class vs. “Hate Everyone” by Say Anything and “Heartbreak Song” by Kelly Clarkson vs. “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World.

According to the article by Rolling Stone, Smith’s rep said, “Although the likeness was a complete coincidence, all involved came to an immediate and amicable agreement in which Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne are now credited as co-writers of ‘Stay With Me’ along with Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips.”

Ultimately, it was decided that Sam Smith’s hit-song “Stay With Me” and its relation to Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” was completely accidental and nothing more than an innocent coincidence. That said, it was still ruled that Petty and Lynne would be co-credited for “Stay With Me.” However, the overall feel of the case was completely amicable.

While it may be a simple and innocent mistake, there is no question that copyright infringement is very real and can greatly affect a songwriter or recording artist. Here at Zone Recording Studio of Cotati, California, we desire for you to be safe and above board with your music. However, at the end of the day, there are only 12 notes, and expecting every single artist to come up with something completely original every time they sit down to write a song is perhaps ambitious.

While this may be true, it is important to check sources and verify that your songs are as original as possible. Remember, originality is key. For any tips, tricks and suggestions, call Blair at Zone Recording Studios at (800) 372-3305.

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