Why Do I Hear the Same Song Over and Over Again?
So this is the story of a male going to a club, noticing the presence of an attractive female, and trying to induce her into some kind of relationship. “Sexy boys, they lovin’ me so much, . . ., ‘[c]ause I’m too sexy in this club.” Or, “The club can’t even handle me right now, watchin’ you watchin’ me we go all out, the club can’t even handle me right now (yeahhhhh).” And of course, “baby I like it! The way you move on the floor, baby I like it! Come on and give me some more.”
The Sugababes, Flo Rida, Enrique Iglesias and others surely share more than a passion for entertaining music. Out of boredom, I must ask, why must so many songs display the same story? It is true that love has always been a never-ending source of inspiration for most entertainers, and one must admit that we are all, in some respects, eager to share our knowledge on that very complicated subject that is human relationships. It is also true that ideas are not copyrightable, that only expressions are.
So talking, filming, or singing about affairs of the heart is an understandably redundant phenomenon. An interesting number of songs, that I dare to qualify as commercial, basically share comparable lyrics. Is the lack of originality a matter of copyright law, and if so, to what extent? In medieval Europe, minstrels and troubadours would often take on someone else’s work and add their own contribution. Legalization of authorship and subsequent rights happened only after the invention of the printing machine. In Pendleton v. Acuff-Rose Publications, Inc., the court held that “common words and cliched language are not subject to copyright protection.” 605 F. Supp. 477, 480 (M.D. Tenn. 1984). Therefore, “protection lies in words that are original, even if there are not novel.” David Nimmer, Copyright in the Dead Sea Scrolls, 38 Hous. L. Rev. 3 (2001-2002). Sure thing, expanding our social circles in disco clubs is a common occurrence and singing about it should not be copyrightable. Substantial similarity is one of the elements a plaintiff must prove to support a claim of copyright infringement. But there cannot be any substantial similarity, then, if clubbing and making advances is so commonplace that it cannot be protected. That explains everything indeed! Songs could be identical either because we do not know what to talk about, or because we do not want to hear anything else, but most importantly because we would be able to do it without restraint. And as copyright law produces incentive for creation, the absence of protection would result in a patent lack of originality. Good news, I will not be sued for my new song that talks about me staring at a muscled male on the dance floor.