Burt Bacharach spoke out early in August against the number of plagiarism lawsuits doing the rounds, disagreeing with some of the decisions. The giant of 20th century popular songwriting achieved global recognition in the 1960s and 70s writing for stars such as Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black and The Carpenters, often setting music to Hal David's lyrics. He is still active as a composer in 2017, and is highly respected across the industry.
Speaking with BBC Radio 5 Live's Colin Paterson (broadcast on Afternoon Edition 3 August 2017), he said, “I don’t like it – I mean it’s a very delicate matter. You know there are just so many notes, and when is the definitive decision made that a song is derivative? I’ve seen some bad decisions.
Bacharach revealed he had been sued himself for one of his most successful hits Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head. “Somebody who I never knew said to me “no, I wrote Raindrops”, and then they sue. And then you have to protect yourself lawyer-wise and prove that you wrote it and not the other person. It’s not a perfect science.”
Bacharach was asked what could be done to fix the current situation. “There has to be maybe three, four outstanding experts, musicologists, who can be trusted, who can differentiate and say that’s derivative, that’s not derivative. There are just so many notes when you look at the keyboard – C C# D D# E F . . . - that’s one octave, right there. And that’s what you’ve got to play with, right? So some songs sound like others.”
The legendary songwriter turns 90 in May 2018, and has just completed work on a new musical, Some Lovers. Referring to the evolution of the music industry to digital distribution and free downloads he concluded, “things are messy enough in the world of pop music . . . and then on top of it to have this kind of cross-suing . . . I don’t like it.”
You can hear an extract from the interview here: https://activepixels.blob.core.windows.net/lostinmusicproduction/assets/bacharach-interview-3-aug-17.mp3
What do you think? Is there a fairer way to establish whether one song infringes another? Is a jury trial less likely to reach a correct decision? You can submit comments below.