Inspiration versus plagiarism in the age of the Internet: the case of Joe Satriani vs Coldplay

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‘Did Coldplay rip off Joe Satriani’, we are being asked all over the Internet these days. It seems that Coldplay might have copied their hit song’s melody from that of a song Joe Satriani wrote awhile ago.

Now I’m no music expert. I’ve mentioned this before, but the only thing I’m good at when it comes to music is pressing play (and even then I sometimes have problems). So this post isn’t going to be about if or if not Coldplay ripped Joe Satriani off or not, but rather if in this day and age it is possible for anyone to create anything truly original.

One must tread very delicately when speaking of such issues. After all, artists tend to pour their heart and soul into their art, and speaking ill of it could be perceived as speaking ill of their heart and soul. As a writer, I can understand the attachment an artist has to his creation, and how it must hurt when this idea is thrashed or when it is put in doubt, as Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida’ currently is.

In the age of information, can it truly be said that any creation is truly original? It seems to me that everything that comes out – be it music, books, or movies – has already existed before in some for or another. What we are currently exposed to is the ‘modern’ version of expressions that have existed for ages and have evolved according to techonological and societal advances. Could it be said that we have come out of the age of artistic originality and entered the age of artistic innovation?

So the entire Joe Satriani vs. Coldplay showdown makes me question what is inspiration and what is stealing, i.e. plagiarism. If Coldplay was inspired by a small section of Joe Satriani’s song, does it mean that Coldplay stole it? If so, could this mean that everyone is guilty of plagiarism, since everyone’s inspiration comes in major part from artists we have been exposed to throughout our lives? Can Michael Jackson sue all the young ones nowadays whose music is so heavily influenced by his?

We are seven billion people on this planet, most of us connected like no previous generation could dream of. Ideas flow around the globe in a matter of minutes, if not second, at the mere click of a mouse. Even this humble little blog is read in over 20 countries last time I counted. Everyone is influenced by everyone else; the bigger the artist, the more people he or she inspires, and the more people will create pieces that are reminiscent of this inspiration. Who and how are we going to draw the line between inspiration and plagiarism?

On a side note, if you want to find out more about the resemblances between Joe Satriani’s song and Viva la Vida, here is a great clip that was put together:

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