This past Sunday was music’s biggest night. There was fashion. There were antics. There was Kanye attempting to make a show about music all about him. And, there were a LOT of copyright issues. Music might have taken center stage by being honored, but copyright issues crept in as obvious as Madonna’s horned dancers.
Wait, did you miss them? I’m not talking about the obvious performances of music on broadcast television. The two issues that jumped off the screen were Sam Smith winning many awards for a song based on a pre-existing work, and The Recording Academy taking a stand for payment of music aired over terrestrial broadcast.
When I first heard Sam Smith, I had two thoughts. One, nice voice and a different voice. There is not something like that on popular radio. Good for him. It cut thru the over-processed Pit Bull/Kanye/Bro Country movement that is going on.
My second thought was because of The Hubs. He immediately recognized the hit song Stay With Me sounded eerily like Tom Petty’s Won’t Back Down. Admittedly, I didn’t hear it at first, but then as The Hubs sang Petty’s version over the Sam Smith song it became really obvious the melodies not only sound alike, but are the same song.
The House of Saucier is not the only ones who had the thought. As Rolling Stone Magazine reported, Tom Petty’s people drew the same conclusion. Petty’s representatives called Smith’s representatives and an agreement was amicably reached, quickly I might add, for Petty to be listed and given songwriting credit. Smith’s reps stated, “Not previously familiar with the 1989 Petty/Lynne song, the writers of ‘Stay With Me’ listened to ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and acknowledged the similarity.” You can read the Rolling Stone article HERE.
The screenshot from a BMI search showing Tom Petty’s songwriting credit. I’m sure Tom is not complaining because he now will receive a royalty check, mailbox money, for the success of Stay With Me.
We all make mistakes. Maybe Sam had never heard Tom Petty’s song. Maybe it was an honest mistake. What really gets me is that he had not one, but four chances to acknowledge Tom Petty. He didn’t. Stay With Me even won the award for Best Song, which honors the musical work copyright and the songwriters. (You can read about the difference between Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Record of the Year by visiting an earlier posted titled And The GRAMMY® Goes To …). For me, that GRAMMY® award should honor the originality of a song, and its ability to say something in original artistic musical expression that has never been said before. How is that possible with a knock off?
I am disappointed the music community would choose a song so unoriginal as the recipient of the award. To the unknowing viewing audience it feels dishonest not to at least acknowledge the contribution made by another artist who’s chord construction played a role in your win. I want to like Sam Smith. Right now, I just can’t.
The other big copyright news to come out of the awards show came during Neil Portnow’s speech, The Recording Academy’s president. Portnow announced the launch of Creators Alliance that will unite all music artists to lobby for reform in the copyright statute. The group will make recommendations to policymakers on what they consider fair royalty rates while simultaneously educating artists and other creative professionals.
Portnow’s announcement was timely because The Copyright Office released a report earlier in the week, based on several months of study, which looks to overhaul the royalty rate system now in place for musical works and sound recordings. It will take into account streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, increased rates for terrestrial broadcast, and provisions for a film synchronization scheme. You can read the entirety of the report from the Copyright Office by clicking this link and reading Copyright and The Music Marketplace. How this plays out is definitely an issue to watch. Y’all pop some popcorn because the music industry dropped the mic at the GRAMMYs® with their announcement, and you can bet the broadcasters are going to come out swinging.
While it was music’s biggest night, for me, copyright shared the stage as the hot topic. What did you think of Sam Smith’s disregard of Tom Petty? Was an announcement by The Recording Academy saying they are going to advocate for music necessary since they already have several other models in place? Take part in the Comments section below and Stay Tuned In!
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With regard to the Recording Academy members voting for “Stay With Me” for Song of the Year, the GRAMMY ballot was due back to Deloitte about ten days before the settlement between Smith and Petty was made public. If the timing would have been different, the Smith camp could have contacted the Academy to ask to have Petty’s name added as a songwriter to the ballot entry, but the timing wasn’t there. But I agree that Smith should have acknowledged Petty in some way in his acceptance speech fo Song of the Year.
At the GRAMMY Foundation’s Entertainment Law Initiative
Luncheon last Friday, the keynote address by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) was also about the Copyright challenges facing the music and tech industries, as well as Congress. He challenged all of the attendees–many of the top music attorneys in the country–to advise their clients to join together in speaking with a unified voice to make sure the music industry’s side of the issue is well represented in the Congressional fight in ten coming year.
Thanks for commenting Reid. There is something to be said for timing. I appreciate you sharing these thoughts with the readers.
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