Friday, November 29, 2013

Okay, so I'll do another blog about plagiarism, sampling and genre similarity as long as you all promise to STFU about it.

Ever since I wrote a blog recently about IU's plagairism accusations and melodic plagiarism in general, I've been bombarded with people asking the following:


I've been reluctant to dive into answering this question, simply because I don't want to be "that guy" who people run to whenever there's a new plagiarism case to ask what I think.  The whole point of my last blog was to hopefully get people to realise that similarity in music is a completely normal thing across all music styles and genres and to stop fucking obsessing over it, and of course plenty of people completely missed that point and instead used the post as a tool to obsess about the issue and picked things apart even more - which was exactly the opposite to what I intended.  Yay me.


It's really amusing to me that any of this comes up as a hot issue for k-pop fans at all, given that the entire genre of k-pop itself is a complete carbon copy of western pop.  If there's one bunch of music fans who should be completely fine about hearing things sounding like other things, you'd think k-pop fans should be it.  Yet the questions persist, so as usual I'm not going to just answer this question specifically, but I'm going to take a look at the much broader issue of what constitutes a musical theft, in the (probably vain) hope that you never feel the need to ask me or anybody else about this shit ever again, because you will totally understand it.  So here we go.

At first listen, they don't sound much like each other at all.  Different genres for a start.  Then you realise when the backing starts to kick in that it's the same chords and the rhythm kind of sounds the same once you remove that heavy beat that Primary has added.   Hmmm... plagiarism?  Well, if we're going to decide if something is plagiarism, first we need to know what that is, legally speaking.  I did talk about this before in the other blog post about IU and Nekta but I only really focused on the melodic plagiarism aspect that was relevant to that specific case, and not some of the other aspects.  I'll try to keep this simple and free of jargon so an 8-year old Super Junior fan can follow it... and remember, I'm only writing this shit because y'all begged me to.  Be careful what you wish for, hey kids.

sfsf copy

Okay so: all musical works are copyright to the person who wrote them, by default (although to prove your copyright in a court of law, you need your musical work to be in some kind of physical form such as sheet music or a recording).  Copyrights can be sold or transferred, they can be borrowed or donated, and they can also be stolen.  Plagiarism therefore refers to someone "stealing your copyright" and passing off your work as their own, and/or using your work without your permission.

Key points:

*  It's not plagiarism if the person using your work actually has permission, or has purchased the rights to the song from whoever owns those rights.

Example: Girls' Generation - Dancing Queen - vs - Duffy - Mercy fact it's exactly the same song, with different words, but it doesn't fucking matter because SM credited the original and also got permission so it's all good.  To be honest, that's a hell of a lot more trouble than most people go to when they cover other people's material - more obscure artists will still usually credit the original but not bother to actually seek permission, instead they'll just do their own version of the song anyway and hope nobody notices.  Know that the original rights holder can actually shut them down legally and prevent this if they choose, it's rare but it does happen, because an original songwriter would receive royalties if the cover becomes a hit and they are credited, so they're usually happy to let things slide - but not always.  Obviously a group as high profile as Girls' Generation can't get away with that shit so they go the ultra-legal route and cross their t's and dot their i's before releasing anything - and that's the reason why Girls' Generation's version of this song took five years to come out.

*  It's not plagiarism if you don't even own the fucking original in the first place.

Example: Girls' Generation - Run Devil Run - vs - Ke$ha - Run Devil Run

Ke$ha was pitched this song originally by songwriters/producers Alex James, Busbee, and Kalle Engström, she recorded a demo of it (linked) but decided that it didn't suit her style and not to go ahead with an official release.  Later, this song was sold to SM Entertainment who obviously felt that it suited Girls' Generation just fine.

*  It's not plagiarism if the work isn't actually your own work, but is a "soundalike".

A few examples off the top of my head - this list could easy be ten times as long if I'd bothered to put actual effort in:

Ailee - I'll Show You - sounds like - Pussycat Dolls - Hush Hush
Co-Ed School - Bbiribbom Bberibbom - sounds like - Lady Gaga - Telephone
Co-Ed School - Too Late - sounds like - Britney Spears - If You Seek Amy
F-ve Dolls - Soulmate #1 - sounds like - Lipps Inc. - Funky Town
FTIsland - The Angel And The Woodman - sounds like - Jason Mraz - Live High
Girl's Day - Female President - sounds like - Little Mix - Wings
IU - The Red Shoes - sounds like - Nekta - Here's Us
IU & Fiestar - Sea of Moonlight - sounds like - a-ha - Take On Me
Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines - sounds like - Marvin Gaye - Got To Give It Up
Secret - Poison - sounds like - Beyonce - Crazy In Love
Spica - I'll Be There - sounds like - Spice Girls - Wannabe
T-ara - Cry Cry - sounds like - Britney Spears - Oops! I Did It Again
T-ara - Day By Day - sounds like - Britney Spears - Criminal
CL - The Baddest Female - sounds like - Every Shit Nu-School Rap Song Ever

(I threw Thicke in that list even thought it's not k-pop because people have been asking me a ton about that issue, too (not sure why, I mean, I'm "Kpopalypse" not "Funk/Soulpocalypse" but hey whatever).  Marvin Gaye's family has hilariously taken Thicke to court over the similarities between the two songs, which just tell me that they also could use a read of this blog.)

All of these above examples fall into the spectrum of what we call "genre-based similarity".  Songs of the same genre have a tendency to sound the same, simply because similarities between genres are what defines those genres in the first instance.  Some genres have such a regimented form that it's impossible NOT to create soundalikes - doo-wop is an example of a genre where literally EVERY SINGLE SONG is a soundalike of something else.

Are some of the examples in the list above perhaps a bit cheeky and borderline?  Hell yeah.  IU & Fiestar not only cop the same chord progression as a-ha, but they even use the same song structure and keyboard patch!  It's obviously more than chance - the producers clearly listened to "Take On Me" and said "okay guys - let's do something that sounds like that".  However, it's not illegal to do that, as long as you don't exactly copy melodies.  The keyboard riff in "Sea Of Moonlight", while certainly close to a-ha's song, isn't exactly the same, and the vocal melodies aren't the same either... so therefore they're not the same song, even though they sure do sound similar.  You need, at the very least, exactly (and I mean exactly) the same melody for a reasonable portion of the song, we're talking at least four bars worth of vocals or lead instrument here as a general rule.  K-pop producers mostly aren't stupid (a notable exception later) - they know exactly how far they can push it before they've crossed a line, and you can get as upset about it as you want - it's not plagiarism if they know exactly where that line is drawn and you don't.

Another way you can get pinged for plagiarism is the fine art of sampling - taking snatches of other people's songs and incorporating them into your own songs.  Sampling is to music a bit like what collage is to visual art. But samples are in everything these days, right?  So how do people get away with it?

For a sample to be legally actionable by the original owner of the work, it has to be a "recognisable portion", which is essentially another way of saying "don't get caught".  A single guitar strum or a drum is not going to be legally actionable.  Chain a few drum hits and guitar strums and the likelihood of legal action increases exponentially.  Sampling a snatch of a famous piece of music is the most extreme form of sampling and is a bit like cutting out a picture of a can of a well known soft drink and sticking it in a collage work.  Your result may still arguably be creative and original if you're used the existing sample in a new way, like shoving the soft drink bottle up Taeyang's ass in your collage work, but the beverage company is probably still going to try and sue your butt off if your art piece becomes famous and noticeable enough for it to draw the soft drink CEO's attention.  It's a "recognisable portion" of their brand and they may not approve of you profiting from their name, or even if you're not making money they still may not approve of the association between their drink and Taeyang's ass.


(There are limited exceptions to the rule on the grounds of "fair use through education and satire" though, so I'm totally allowed to show you this image to illustrate the concept for educational purposes.  Gosh, just as well.)

The same kinds of rules that apply to traditional songwriting plagiarism also apply to sampling:

*  It's not plagiarism if the person using the sample got permission and credited you

*  It's not plagiarism if you don't own the original, because you signed/gave it away or whatever

*  It's not plagiarism if it's not actually your original being sampled but just something that sounds like it

Now that we know what music plagiarism is and is not, let's talk about Primary.

Firstly, the songs don't sound anything like each other, they're not even the same genre.  The melodies in Primary's song in the rare cases when they appear aren't even in the same ballpark.  The chords are the same - sometimes, but the beat mostly isn't even close and then there's all that 'rap' stuff.  So "melodic plagiarism" in the IU/Nekta sense is definitely out of the question.

What about sampling?  Did Primary sample and loop Caro Emerald's riff?  Well... no.  If you listen close it's not the same sound.  What Primary has done instead is get someone to play something kind of similar and sample that instead.  The differences are obvious if you listen for them.  Primary's version has much "brassier" horn parts, presumably a production choice to make the horn riff stand out over the heavy drum-machine beat, whereas Caro Emerald has a much smoother sound to her backing that suits the more mellow rhythm.

This is "soundalike sampling" and it's a common practice in sample-based music that allows people who like working with samples to reappropriate ideas while conveniently side-stepping those icky legal problems.  It's not coincidence - Primary would have done this on purpose.  It's also not illegal.  It's not even all that uncreative - he's definitely reinterpreted Caro's song in a new way.  Getting someone else's riff, copying it and then using it in a whole other genre effectively is not something that just anybody can do and get good results with.  I mean, listen to how it sounds when people fail:

You can sample the best song in the world but if you suck, the result will still suck.

And I know you people will mention it if I don't bring it up so here's a quick run-through of some of the other allegations re: Primary:

Both clearly a case of "inspired by" and similar rhythms but the melodies aren't really the same so fuck off.

You can't copyright "a bunch of people standing in a room with a curtain looking all retro with washed out colour and fonts and shit" as a concept for fucks' sake.  Whoever made this comparison video is a fucking idiot.  Metallica might as well copyright the headbang and sue every other metal group with headbanging into their video (in fact I wouldn't put something like that completely past litigation-happy Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich).  The first rapper who ever wore gold chains in a video while bikini-clad girls danced in the background could sue every other one too, etc.

Also, there's the ever-so-slightly-important fact that Caro Emerald's producers are actually not all that bothered by any of this.  If the person who wrote the original doesn't even have a major problem with it, why should YOU?  It's not plagiarism if the other party approves.

So if Primary didn't plagiarise, who did?

La Materialista:

This is what melodic plagiarism actually sounds like.  Good luck finding a decent quality version of her initially-uncredited rip-off of 2NE1's "I Am The Best" anywhere on YouTube or anywhere else for that matter because YG shut down this dumb woman's shit faster than you can say "Minzy plagiarised Soyeon's nose idea".

Bahnus (for Lee Hyori):

Same chorus melody, not soundalike, but literally the same - a key point.  It also helps that the lyrics are the same - you'd be amazed how much weight lyrical similarity carries in a plagiarism case.  Clearly showing legal balls of steel, Lee Hyori's producer Bahnus stole a ton of stuff from various places for the H-Logic album, which suggests that maybe H-Logic is not best logic.



Enough said.  Those dirty SNSD bitches.  They copied EVERYTHING.


  1. Oh man, if only those SNSD vs. GG was real, that would've been the most epic of fail in kpop history

    1. Actually I have no idea whether it's real or not. I don't know the source, someone just linked that on a Facebook page that I follow and I thought it would make a nice conclusion.

    2. Not entirely off topic, but here is one particular troll (or douchebag)
      "Sica from SNSD is trying so hard to be Jessica from Girls Generation." - is one of his/her/its tweet.

  2. SNSD sucks, Girls' Generation 4 lyfe

  3. it's also worth mentioned *why* people get so fucking precious over this sort of thing.

    different art forms are consumed differently. movies and television comprehensively provide ways for media to be to be consumed - that is, it provides visual & auditory output. there's little mental ambiguity with a movie, everything is presented right there for you. in addition, it's a shared experience - everyone sees what you see, so it's not completely personal to you.

    compare that to other art forms; books, for example. the story is written down and then assembled in your imagination as you read it. everything in the story - how the characters look, what they sound like, the events that take place - are assembled by you personally. hence why whenever a book is adapted into a movie or tv series the same old frustrations are aired by those who enjoyed the book and find the adaptation unfaithful to what happened in their head.

    music, likewise, is an art form that's consumed in a very personal way. moreso probably. there's no visual stimulation, it's internal and tends to impose emotions, and it all differs from person to person. I remember when f(x) came out with Chu~ and people hated it. not me, i fucking loved it, something about the hook struck a chord with me and I still love listening to it because it stirs something in me, whilst it doesn't for others. it's why people will go to see the same artist at different concerts and their highlight is always when they do the same song... you wouldn't do that for a comedian, always waiting for the same joke, would you? that joke doesn't pull at you emotionally.

    and that's why people get so precious about the songs that mean something to them. it's their personal thing, but when someone does a cover it just doesn't feel right,.. like looking at a robot with near-perfect human likeness; close, but wrong, and that closeness makes it more wrong. and when someone makes another piece of music that has similarities to something you find precious, it's impeding on a personal part of your consciousness. they've taken this thing that's personal to you and taken it away to make something else.

    you know who else gets emotionally affected by music? musicians. and unlike someone like me, who will never have a musical bone in my body (unless i get raped by Elton John) they possess the ability to do something with it. all they hear, all that inspires them, everything that fires their emotions, they're capable of putting into musical form themselves. they know what arrangements to make, which instruments can create a certain vibe, what sequence of notes can create a certain feeling they want to reproduce, because they've heard it all before.

    all music is the sum of its creator's influences. once you get past the idea that music is sacred and start to accept it as a big, organic pool of inspirations you can start to appreciate it so much more. see how it spreads, see how people absorb old things and blend them in to something new. Oasis have had a lot of stick down the years for their unashamed Beatles influence, but that doesn't matter - what matters is they took that influence and made great new stuff with it.

    taking someone else's work and claiming it as your own is a cunt's trick. but there's nothing wrong whatsoever with someone creating a piece of music that's based on another, but built upon and moulded in to something new. focus on how well they did it, not that it reminds you of something else, because that's a problem that only takes place in your own head.

    1. oh shit that was longer than i though.

      a bit like my penis... LADIES

    2. I probably could have gone into this a little but it would have made the blog even longer (as you can see) and I was trying to keep it down. I'll settle for "they're dumb" as an explanation, but yours is also good.

  4. 1. I actually read the whole thing.
    2. La Materialista clip killed me.
    2. SNSD vs Girls' Generation. WTF? LOL
    3. Can't wait for your livestream.

  5. I get kinda excited when I find out a Kpop song has been heavily sampled since I usually end up liking the original more.

    1. Yeah i agree with you... But i don't want to listen Run Devil Run by Kesha again... The amount of auto-tone...

    2. Still though, the song suited Ke$ha more than SNSD. SNSD pulling off a bad girl concept is as convincing as a 12 year old with a milk mustache trying to get into a club.

  6. It's no surprise SM buys a lot of songs like seriously.. I remember i watched a few videos about a guy talking about K-pop songs/videos that sounded just like some songs.. It's scary the amount of songs SM bought so their *artists* could sing them, SM has no creativity :D ( But who cares money buys creativity right?)... Also speaking of The Materialista and her song i remember how the latin Blackjcks raged and stuff.. They thought after this scandal she wouldn't release the single but here it is if anyone wants to hear her masterpiece ( i know she changed a bit the song).

    Good luck.

    1. Yeah you can hear how in the final version whoever produced this (surely not her - she doesn't seem that bright) has moved around a few notes here and there to make it sound a little less like the original, no doubt hoping to evade further legal action. I wonder how that's working out for her.

    2. The only thing good about that video was her tits.

    3. Gawd, all that fucking autotune o.O Now I know how other people feel when they listen to 2NE1 XD

  7. I once posted a troll comment on an GG video saying something along the lines of "Why are these sluts trying to copy SNSD? These ugly whores will never be as good as the queens of kpop, SNSD. SNSD: Queens. Girls' Generation: Ugly Sluts." As you can imagine hilarity was ensured. Actually, Plagiarism is one of the few topics that most sones have intelligent attitudes towards. I was genuinely impressed by some of the comments by sones on the DQ video explaining to ignorant fucks how shit actually worked.

    1. Dancing Queen was a completely unnecessary and uninteresting cover.
      They should have reused that old footage for something different.

    2. I actually do agree. If SNSD were going to cover a song they shouldv'e done something a bit more interesting than ultra-bland "Mercy" eugh.

    3. when I heard Dancing Queen i thought: is this shit really happening?. But what surprised the most was finding out Jessica and Tiffany help in writing the lyrics. I wonder if they thought: this is an amazing song and we get to write the lyrics, yeah! OR this is the worst idea ever, but we get to write lyrics, so lets do this fast.

    4. Don't be fooled. When ever an idol helps write lyics for a song they don't usually have that much input. Sones love to stroke themselves saying how Sooyoung was such an ingenious songwriter for the lyrics of Baby Maybe but she herself said that she only wrote one syllable.

  8. Did someone REALLY post that last one about SNSD/ Girls' Generation or were you just fucking with us? XD

    1. Someone linked it on a FB profile that I follow. I don't know if it's real or not.

    2. :P either way it's still hilarious XD

  9. She admitted it was fake:
    She was just trolling

    1. Damn that's a shame. I was really hoping it was real. Oh well, still funny I guess.

  10. Interesting article. Saluting you while Bittersweet Symphony plays in the background.

    1. You mean that song with the Rolling Stones sample that The Verve got taken to court for? Cool, kinda appropriate.

  11. Honestly, I don't even know why you wrote an article when Caro Emerald's producer has already addressed the issue and has reached out to Primary. They decided not to take it to court.

    1. I wrote it to address the overarching issue, so that way the next time something like this happened people would use their heads. Of course now Crayon Pop is being accused of plagiarising whoever and that's all bullshit too.

  12. Wtf with snsd vs girls generation? LOL

    Some copying allegations are stupid but others not:

    1. That guy with that channel is an idiot.

  13. What about IU's "Uaena" song and Extreme's "More Than Words"? ;P


    More Than Words:

    1. Verse has the same chords. That's the only similarity. Chorus is very different and vocal melody isn't the same in either. You can't copyright a chord progression.

      By the way the point of this blog was that people would learn and obsess about this kind of thing LESS, not MORE. Just saying.

  14. Yo Oppar did you see the plagiarism accusations about crayon pop and Lupin III?

    1. Yes. More bullshit. You can't copyright a riff, and it's not the same notes, only the rhythm and texture are the same. When will people learn to STFU.

  15. When will people learn that just because a song *sounds* the same doesn't mean it is? Also, why are K-Pop fans so butthurt about plagiarism claims anyway? Most people get into K-Pop *because* it blatantly rips off western pop music (I have no shame in admitting this is why I like groups like 2NE1 :P). This shit makes zero sense to me >_> But thanks for the Caro Emerald links; I have a new artist to obsess over :3