Saturday, November 7, 2015

Understanding plagiarism and song ownership issues so you don't look like a fuckhead on the Internet

A couple years ago I wrote this post and then this other post about plagiarism in k-pop, to help the people I encounter understand the basics of what plagiarism is and is not.  I still gets tons of questions every time a new k-pop plagiarism or song ownership dispute appears, which seems to be about once per week lately.  So in the spirit of "teach a man to fish rather than slap them across the face with a fish", as well as the spirit of "please stop asking me these stupid fucking questions because nobody cares", Kpopalypse now brings to you a nice, simple guide to finding plagiarism in your favourite k-pop songs!  Yay!



Step 1: do you have the right song?

When checking if a song is plagiarised, it's important firstly to make sure that you have selected the right song to begin checking with.  This might seem basic, but you'd be amazed how easy it is to be tardy with important details like this.  Let's look at IU's recent "Twenty-three" controversy as a case study.

Here's a song by IU called "Twenty-three".  IU wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the music (which could mean that she wrote most of it, or just one note, or even none of it but the producers felt like throwing her a songwriting credit anyway).  It does not contain samples of any other music.

Here's another song by IU also called "Twenty-three".  IU wrote the lyrics but did not write the music.  It has samples of Britney Spears in it, which has proven controversial, because although most people consider Britney Spears and her music a bit fucking basic, people will pretend that they care about whoever it's convenient for them to pretend to care about whenever the opportunity to witch-hunt a k-pop idol comes up.

Let's recap because I know this is probably confusing for some of you:

SONGDid IU co-write it?Does it sample Shitney?Are you an idiot if you confuse these two songs?
Twenty-three (feature track on IU's Chat-shire album)YesNoYes
Twenty-three (bonus OST song on IU's Chat-shire album)NoYesYes

Now, you wouldn't want to do something silly like say "that dirty IU bitch, she co-wrote this "Twenty-three" song and it's got samples of Britney Spears in it, therefore it's her fault, what a whorebag" because that would be confusing the song that she co-wrote (the first one) with the one that she did not but which has the Britney samples in it (the second one) marking yourself out as someone lacking in intelligence who confused the two different songs.  Nobody wants to be thought of on the Internet as a waste to society only good for pushing a broom in front of them, hence the importance of checking your song material before proceeding.

Step 2: do you know who owns the material?

Assuming that you're not a mouth-breather and you've identified your song correctly, it's time to figure out who actually has ownership of that song.  This is important because if we're going to talk about plagiarism or unfair use of any kind, we need to work out who owns the property.  Watch out, this could be tricky!

Let's look at a case study with Davichi in order to better understand the complexities involved.  Davichi are at the moment signed with CJE&M, but their old agency MBK wants to release an older Davichi song called "Moments" that Davichi recorded back when they were in MBK but which was never released at the time.  CJE&M would prefer that this didn't happen because Davichi is now under contract with them and they want to control what gets released, but MBK are saying "too bad, so sad" and fully intend to release the song anyway.  Can MBK actually do that?

Well firstly, singing a song does not mean you own it.  Singing a song gives you precisely 0% ownership of that song.  Ownership of a song defaults to the songwriters, not the singers - so the Davichi girls can't claim the song as theirs.  Songwriters in k-pop usually give ownership to the company however, in one of two ways:
  1. As freelancers, selling their song to the company for a fee
  2. As employees of the company under contract with a clause that states any creative works they make while employed by the company belong to the company
The second point is a common clause in any business, not just the music industry.  At a large corporation I used to work for many, many years ago, one of the employees I worked with made a small web-based software program to do some simple calculations for the staff.  When the supervisors saw this neat little program they told the managers about it, and the company quickly adopted the program as official procedure.  The use of this program saved the business an estimated $5 million per year, but the employee who wrote the program didn't see any of this money at all.  All he got to show for it was an increase in reputation ("look there, that's the guy who saved us $5m per year").  He probably got invited to a few nice dinners at the company's expense where the CEO spoke to him fondly but that's probably about it.

Likewise, the Davichi song would have been sold to MBK, or created under contract and legally property of MBK.  Therefore MBK can actually do whatever the fuck they want with it, they have complete legal (and ethical/moral) rights to the song, it's their property, fair and square.  Just because it's a Davichi song doesn't mean that Davichi OR their company own it.  Of course if you're a dumb bitch with a hate-boner for MBK you may think MBK are being sketchy about it but in fact the reverse is true - MBK are playing strictly by the book and CJE&M are the ones being dodgy as fuck.  CJE&M know that MBK has a reputation as "super-thugs T-ara's label oh my god watch out for their CEO he behaves like every other k-pop CEO ever" so they're appealing to the public to try and put pressure on MBK to not release the song.  They have no legal way to stop MBK from releasing what's rightfully property of MBK so they're "asking" MBK to not release it in full view of the public, trying to sway the court of popular opinion in their favour as leverage to get what they want - ultimately it's a con, a mild form of barely-legal extortion.


Going back to the IU situation, and IU doesn't own the music to "Twenty-three" (the OST song) and she certainly doesn't own those Britney samples on the track either... but, plot-twist - neither does Britney Spears.  Britney's song "Gimme More" that IU's songwriters sampled was actually a creation of four different songwriters, none of whom are Britney (who barely has any rights over her own fucking life let alone her songs) and it's also entirely possible that those songwriters or Britney's agency agreed to sell those snatches of Britney's vocal to a sample CD company, making Loen's clarification of where the songwriters got the samples from quite believable.  After all it's not any actual melody that's being sampled, just tiny snatches of talking.  It's just as possible that the same sample CD company just lifted the Britney samples without permission of course, passing it off as their own in-house-created samples, and then sold it to various producers around the world... or it's possible that IU's producers just nicked the tiny vocal snatches thinking "it sounds cool and who will honestly give a fuck".  This happens more often than you'd think.  Samples tend to end up in the public circulation if used enough, like Flavor Flav's vocals from Public Enemy's "Bring The Noise" which wound up on DIA's "Somehow".  MBK probably didn't ask for permission to use that either... and neither did the 500 other artists who have used Public Enemy's samples ever since Public Enemy have been making music, like Madonna's producers, who sampled Public Enemy's "Security Of The First World" beat for "Justify My Love"... but of course that beat wasn't Public Enemy's either but was originally sampled from James Brown's "Funky Drummer", and Public Enemy weren't the only ones to do that.  You can find the "Funky Drummer" beat on every sample drum-loop CD ever nowadays, it's pretty much considered public domain even though the original drummer is still trying to get royalties.  Britney's vocal samples might yet occupy a similar "legal but not" space.

Step 3:  can you use your ears?

Netizenbuzz sadly did the stupids of the k-pop world an incredibly punishing disservice in her IU article by linking the YouTube channel of this fucking clueless idiot, some clown called "Copycat Hunter" with video after video that proves beyond doubt that neither him/her nor the legions of morons who take these type of videos seriously have any clue what plagiarism or even basic similarity actually is in practice (despite pretending to understand the theory).  I've covered before how "soundalikes" are not plagiarism and it's perfectly legal to have a song that sounds very similar to another song as long as melody isn't exactly copied, but most of the videos on this person's channel don't even qualify as sonic soundalikes, let alone plagiaristic ones.

f(x)'s "Rum Pum Pum Pum" supposedly sounds like Wu-Tang Clan's "Careful (Click Click)"?  Really?  I find it hard to think of two songs more completely different in every single aspect.

Twice's "Ooh-Ahh" and some shit Matchbox 20 song?  Shannon's "Why Why" would have been a closer pick to the Twice song, and even that's not plagiarism, just a soundalike... but nothing about the Twice and Matchbox 20 songs are the same apart from that they both have a chorus with some fast hi-hat in it.

It's a pretty safe bet to say "Copycat Hunter" is completely tone deaf, because nothing else explains this person's truly bizarre song matchups.  Of course it's not this person's fault if their ears don't work but perhaps they shouldn't be making videos as if they know something when they clearly do not.  Of course because it's on Netizenbuzz now the stupidest of k-pop following morons all over the world will believe it anyway, so expect to see all of this person's shit videos being bandied around as "plagiarism proof OMG!!!!!1111" for the forseeable future by every fuckwit k-pop fan who has only enough brain cells to rub together to figure out how to make a Disqus account and copy-paste GIFs.  I resisted linking the "Copycat Hunter" channel in my because it's so cancerous and full of shit but then I realised that Netizenbuzz had already let the contagious-disease-ridden cat out of the bag, so now I figure I'd better highlight it here as a community service so at least all of you nice readers are now armed with the tools you need to fight against this crime against reason when it appears in forums and on articles, which it will.

I know it seems crazy but for two songs to be considered the same, they actually have to... you know, sound the same.  Not just "oh gosh that seems a bit similar" or "that reminds me of that other song" or even "gee whoever wrote this new song was clearly inspired by that other song from before and are clearly trying to copy it a bit" but exactly the same for a reasonable length of time.  This means they have to fit one of the following criteria:
  • Same melody for a reasonable portion of the song (at least eight bars), plus the same harmony underneath this melody
  • Same words, not just similar but exactly the same, word-for-word for a reasonable length of time
  • Actual samples lifted from the other song (a "reasonable portion" i.e easily identifiable as having come from the other song)
And then on top of that:
  • No permission given for use, publicly or privately
  • No aspect of the work given or sold to the "copyists" or the public domain by the legal owners
  • Not uncopyrightable (certain drumbeats, harmony in isolation, production techniques etc cannot be copyrighted or all new music would be impossible to create without breaking copyright law)
If you can use your ears well enough to determine all of this, then your plagiarism suspicions might be valid - maybe.  On the other hand if you struggle with little details like "hearing stuff properly" and "knowing what a melody is", maybe you shouldn't be making a YouTube channel about it.  You fucking dumbass.

So that's it!  Hopefully this has been an educational experience in the ins and outs of plagiarism, and a good lesson in why almost everybody that you read stuff from about this topic on the Internet is probably completely full of shit!  Now you can feel superior and smarter than them, just like Kpopalypse does!  Please look forward to more posts where I alienate myself further from the hive-mind and teach you how to do the same!  An exciting world of ostracision by the ultra-uptight cunty mainstream k-pop community awaits you!

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  1. Tell the world how stupid these cunts are oppar. I really need some sanity after reading about IU's clusterfuck. It’s times like these that I wish project Luhan and Way's girls really exist.

  2. Actually, the lyrics "rum pum pum pum" come from the Christmas song "Little Drummer Boy." which was originally titled "Carol of the Drums" because of the repeating line "pa rum pum pum pum" which imitates the sound of a drum.

    It is believed to have been written by Katherine K. Davis in 1941 based on an old Czech carol. Other names credited for this song are Henry Onorati and Harry Simeone.