RACHEL BELLE

Is that song like this song? Quick, call a forensic musicologist!

Nov 1, 2016, 6:08 PM | Updated: 7:23 pm
forensic musicologist...
Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had to pay $7.3 million to Marvin Gaye's estate. (Photo by CC Images, Melissa Rose)
(Photo by CC Images, Melissa Rose)
LISTEN: Does that song sound like this song? Quick, call a forensic musicologist!

In 2015, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were found liable for copyright infringement after Marvin Gaye’s family said their song “Blurred Lines” was a direct ripoff of Gaye’s song “Got to Give it Up.” A jury awarded Gaye’s family $7.3 million.

When a case like this comes up, the court calls upon a forensic musicologist.

“A forensic musicologist is someone who analyzes popular music,” Dr. Joe Bennett explains.

Bennett is a musicologist at the Boston Conservatory at the Berklee College of Music.

Shoreline teen spreads messages of love through hip-hop

“Usually they’re used by legal professionals or ad agencies, TV companies, music companies or artists to try and ascertain the similarity between any two musical works,” he said. “And to infer the extent to which the second one has any copied material from the first one.”

Dr. Bennett did not work on the “Blurred Lines” case, but he has his own opinion.

“It wasn’t an appropriate or fair verdict,” Bennett said. “I took a look at it after the news story broke and just transcribed the music. Looked at the bass line, looked at the famous cowbell part. They are similar mid-temp, disco-style groove but I couldn’t find a single note that’s been really obviously copied. So it does bring into question, in that particular case, what do we mean by copying from a song? Can you copy a vibe?”

The work of a forensic musicologist

So how do you determine copyright infringement on a song? How close is too close?

“Well, this is the fundamental question that we’re dealing with,” Bennett said. “It’s always a threshold and it’s always a judgement call of sorts. Trying to figure out how likely is it that two composers could have separately and independently, most importantly, have come up with a similar music idea. Which does happen, there are only so many things you can do within a three to four minute popular song with a few chords.”

“But the likelihood of coincidental similarity obviously diminishes the longer the note chain gets,” he said. “So the more notes in your melody, the less likely it is that a future melody will be coincidentally similar to it.”

But Dr. Bennett says there is no set-in-stone guidelines; no certain number of notes you can copy and get away with. If someone sues, each case is evaluated independently by a forensic musicologist.

He mostly works with people making TV ads, who send their jingles and songs his way to make sure they’re not going to get in trouble.

“So in the simplest cases when somebody says, ‘I believe that this song is a copy of the melody that I wrote,’ then you just transcribe the music and you look at the sheet music and you figure out how many notes line up,” Bennett said. “Of course, in many cases it’s not that simple because what if someone makes a little tweak to that melody or just slightly changes some aspect of the performance or the arrangement. You do get these cases where the similarity is apparent in the record, but it’s not apparent, necessarily, in the composition.”

That was the case with “Blurred Lines.”

Dr. Bennett notes that often it’s a case of accidental copying. We listen to so much music, it’s tough not to accidentally regurgitate a section of a piece of music buried inside of our brain.

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

supply chain...
Rachel Belle

Start your holiday shopping now or risk supply chain issues

Now is the time to start holiday gift shopping because if you don't buy soon, supply chain issues may make it tough to get what you want later.
15 days ago
Dick's...
Rachel Belle

How does Dick’s Drive-In pay workers $19 an hour with a menu completely under $5?

Dick's Drive-In recently raised its base pay, as did Taco Time, which is now offering employees $20 an hour at select locations. How do they keep prices low and pay high?
16 days ago
botox...
Rachel Belle

Don’t like how you look on Zoom? Many young Americans are now getting Botox

More people are turning to Botox to get rid of lines and wrinkles, but is it safe? How does one age naturally in a youth obsessed country? Experts weigh in.
22 days ago
certified wildlife habitat...
Rachel Belle

Turn your backyard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat

The National Wildlife Federation will help you make your yard a habitable home for bees, birds, bugs and critters. And they'll give you an official sign!
1 month ago
Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein, pictured months after 9/11. (Photo courtesy of Emily Cherkin)...
Rachel Belle

‘You either got married or broke up’: 20 years later, a Seattle couple on falling in love in NYC in the wake of 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, Seattle's Emily Cherkin and Ben Gitenstein were 22 years old and separately taking the subway into Manhattan when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers. This is their story.
1 month ago
dirty work...
Rachel Belle

New book ‘Dirty Work’ reveals psychological toll of working unsavory jobs nobody wants

A new book by Eyal Press called "Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America" takes a deeper look at jobs no one wants to do.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Medicare open enrollment for 2022 starts Oct. 15 and SHIBA can help!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
...
Marysville Police Department

Police Opportunities in a Growing, Supportive Washington Community

Marysville PD is looking for both lateral and entry level officers. Begin or continue your career in law enforcement for a growing, supportive community.
...
Comcast

Small, Minority-Owned Businesses in King County and Pierce County Can Now Apply For $10,000 Relief Grants Through Comcast RISE

Businesses in King County and Pierce County can apply beginning on October 1, 2021, at www.ComcastRISE.com for a chance to receive a $10,000 relief grant.
Is that song like this song? Quick, call a forensic musicologist!