March 13, 2023 Musicology No Comments

After sixty years of being the World’s Greatest Rock And Roll Band, The Rolling Stones hadn’t released a song in many years. But they were inspired to write about the pandemic lockdowns, and so we got “Living In A Ghost Town.” Then they got sued for copyright infringement.

Serves them right.

A complaint filed late last week says the Stones “misappropriated many of the recognizable and key protected elements” of a couple of works by Sergio Garcia Fernandez and Angelslang. How’d Mick and Keith hear Angelslang, you ask? The complaint explains that the plaintiff gave a demo CD to someone in Jagger’s family.

We don’t spend a lot of time of course hypothesizing about access on Musicologize; we’re more concerned with the notes. It’s perhaps plausible that Jagger and Richards heard a demo, but isn’t it also plausible that after 60 years of being the Worlds Greatest Rock And Roll Band, that every relative and friend of the Rolling Stones has been told by now, “Never, EVER, bring me anyone’s CD?”

If not, this oughta do it. But I digress.

What we do concern ourselves with musicologically is the question of “key protected elements,” and whether Mr. Fernandez’s “protectable elements” are found in “Ghost.” So let’s take a quick look at that and see if there’s any veracity to any of this.

I had only heard ”Living In A Ghost Town” once prior to this. Now I’ve heard it about thirty times.

And here is one of Angelslang’s two relevant works. Cool name by the way.

I’ll keep you in suspense no longer. I found nothing significantly similar in these two works. It’s not that they don’t sound anything alike. There are observable similarities. You probably hear some similarities. But the question is, are musical elements original to “So Sorry,” found substantially in “Ghost?” The answer to that question in my opinion is, no. Not one.

It occurs, in my experience, and I’d hypothesize it may play a role here, that once there’s an access story in place, there’s a natural predisposition to see the plagiarism — a confirmation of the expectation we’d be taken advantage of — and that affects the conclusions we draw from our observations. The observations are real enough — as in this case in which there are observable similarities between these works; I can see the dots lining up — but we then tend to explain them as the result of copying and plagiarism, where mere coincidence is the more available and empirically defensible explanation.

I don’t even like the Rolling Stones, I’m still a little miffed about the Bittersweet Symphony thing, and without having heard the second of the named works by the plaintiff, I will certainly reserve judgment, but there is nothing at all that I could find in “So Sorry,” that is original and protectable by copyright and which substantially appears in “Living In A Ghost Town.” And that’s where the bar is.

Written by Brian McBrearty