August 31, 2021 Musicology No Comments

Olivia Rodrigo’s record was about a big a deal in my house as any release in a long time. Drivers License had worn out its welcome, and Good 4 You, which was like 10x better in every way, was all I heard for a week. Then I heard about the Paramore comparison, and immediately imagined, “I’ll have to write this up at some point.” And indeed here we are.

Wanna hear both?

Last week, Paramore was given a songwriting credit for Good 4 You; I don’t know what led to it, apart from public outcry. And I don’t know the specific details, so what kind of credit, what’s it worth, etc? I don’t know.

I’ll just say this… it’s great that Rodrigo gave them credit. It’s great that they took it. It’s great that this didn’t turn into a legal battle. And it’s great that people correctly noticed a bunch of similarities.

We always need to think about copyright having a purpose. And that purpose guides the way we interpret the law. We want to protect the rights of creatives to their intellectual property — that’s part of their reward for giving us the fruits of their creativity. But we don’t want to go overboard; we don’t want to protect prior works to such an extreme such that we discourage others from creating something measurably similar. In super simple terms we want you, the creative artist, to be able to create something new that’s close, just not too close for too long, to something someone else rightly owns.

George Harrison ripped off He’s So Fine. He didn’t mean to. But he did.

I’d say Ed Sheeran ripped off Amazing. I don’t think he meant to either. It happens by accident all the time.

Olivia didn’t rip off Paramore. Good 4 You is not a copy of Misery Business. We WANT Good 4 You to be written. Good 4 You is a pretty awesome song. Misery Business is not diminished by it. It’s an awesome song too.

There are a ton of similarities. But although I haven’t sat down and looked very carefully, I assure you, I almost certainly don’t need to. The sum of them doesn’t add up to copying, but might reasonably point to inspiration and influence, (not illegal) if Rodrigo who was four when Misery Business was a hit was ever even familiar with it. Maybe her parents played it around the house.

As a forensic musicologist, if I were looking at this closely, a question I would ask “does Good For You tell us to believe Rodrigo and her co-writers likely heard Misery Business first and then consciously or unconsciously copied it?” But at a quick glance, the answer is probably no. It tells us it’s possible; it’s not nothing. But it’s not a smoking gun.

That said, there’s a world of evidence other than a smoking gun that can be forensically useful. We have in Good For You a constellation of similarities. And I’ll reserve judgment on whether that constellation is substantial or not.

But for now, no. And does Rodrigo’s giving credit to Paramore mean she’s admitting anything? It shouldn’t. So, again for now, let’s not read more into this than there is.

Written by Brian McBrearty