A scrapbook of stuff I'm reading / looking at / listening to / thinking about...
Posts tagged "plagiarism"
Mr. Don Henley (drummer/singer for The Eagles, with an estimated net worth over $200 million) doesn’t want people messin’ with his music. Henley recently sent takedowns to Frank Ocean and Will Sheff of Okkervil River—Ocean sampled the whole master track from “Hotel California” for “American Wedding”, and Sheff rewrote portions of his cover of “The End of Innocence.” His take:
“They don’t understand the law… You can’t re-write the lyrics to somebody else’s songs and record it and put it on the internet. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t an improvement. We were not impressed. So we simply had our legal team tell them to take it down and they got all huffy about it.
It’s a different mindset. I don’t know how they’d react if I took one of their songs and re-wrote the lyrics and recorded it, I don’t know if they’d like that. Maybe they wouldn’t care but I care. We work really really hard on our material. We spend months writing it and years recording it. You don’t go into a museum and paint a moustache on somebody else’s painting. Nobody would think of doing that.
(Actually, Mr. Henley, somebody did think of doing that, in 1919. But anyways…)
Technically, Henley is legally very much in the right. As Rolling Stone points out, “United States copyright law allows anyone to record a cover of any song without asking permission, so long as the musician does not alter the original.”
But to paraphrase Jeffrey “I hate the fuckin’ Eagles, man” Lebowksi, “You’re not wrong, Don, you’re just an asshole.”
Frank Ocean responded:
He (They) threatened to sue if I perform it again. I think that’s fuckin awesome. I guess if I play it at coachella it’ll cost me a couple hundred racks. If I don’t show up to court, it’ll be a judgement against me & will probably show up on my credit report. Oh well. I try to buy my shit cash anyway. They asked that I release a statement expressing my admiration for Mr. Henley, along with my assistance pulling it off the web as much as possible. Shit’s weird. Ain’t this guy rich as fuck? Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.
I started noticing something [all my favorite artists] had in common – they all copied each other…. I realized that this is what artists are supposed to do – communicate back and forth with each other over the generations, take old ideas and make them new (since it’s impossible to really “imitate” somebody without adding anything of your own), create a rich, shared cultural language that was available to everybody. Once I saw it in folk art, I saw it everywhere – in hip-hop, in street art, in dada. I became convinced that the soul of culture lay in this kind of weird, irreverent-but-reverant back-and-forth. And I concluded that copyright law was completely opposed to this natural artistic process in a way that was strangling and depleting our culture, taking away something rich and beautiful that belonged to everyone in order to put more money into the hands of the hands of a small, lawyered few.
He then goes on to explain why he altered the Henley cover in the first place. Worth a read.
One funny bit that nobody’s mentioned: The Eagles themselves probably ripped off Jethro Tull’s “We Used To Know” for “Hotel California,” which sold over 16 million copies in the U.S. alone, and made them all millionaires.
When reading a 1976 oral history book called I Wish I Could Give My Son A Raccoon, he came across a line that seemed really familiar: “We’ve always been hewers of wood and the drawers of water.” He went home and checked his bookshelves:
I grabbed off the shelf a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 masterpiece, “Blood Meridian.” Right there in the first paragraph of the first page was the line: “His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water …” I thought I had uncovered some secret, cracked a code. As McCarthy himself said in one of his rare print interviews, given to The New York Times in 1992, “The ugly fact is books are made out of books.” After a little more research, I found out this same line about hewers of wood and drawers of water appears in a much older and more well-known book, the King James Bible, in Joshua 9:23. At first I thought McCarthy had copied this woman’s line, but in reality, she had likely taken it from the Bible as he probably did. Unoriginality was much more ancient than I had originally suspected.
(via Aiden Livingston)
Show me an artist/writer who has not re-used dialogue or images or music or gestures and I will show you an artist who has no obsessions—aka, a pretty shitty artist. You know who was an awesome writer and wrote kickass dialogue? Shakespeare.
POLONIUS: What do you read, my lord?
HAMLET: Words, words, words.
From Troilus and Cressida:
PANDARUS: What says she there?
TROILUS: Words, words, mere words.
I could dig up more examples, but really, I rest my case here.
Exactly! As Hitchcock said, “Self-plagiarism is style.”