Monday, July 9, 2007

The Old People Might Have This One

Avril Lavigne, Canadian pop mistress dressed in fancy Hot Topic punk clothes, is currently in the middle of a fairly heated debate about music rights. More specifically, Lavigne is being sued by The Rubinoos for plagiarizing their song "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" in her song "Girlfriend."

Since Vanilla Ice tried to say that the bassline from "Ice, Ice Baby" wasn't from Under Pressure by Queen, I've been fascinated by plagiarism battles. In most cases, the burden of proof lays on the artist who is being accused. The artist has to make the claim that their song is not the same as the original. As is well known, Vanilla Ice didn't really pass this test. And by didn't really pass, I mean he completely failed as it is the exact same bass line.

In this situation, I think we are facing a Vanilla Ice type situation. Avril Lavigne posted the following on her website with regards to this issue:

They claim that a small part of the lyrics are the same and are saying that I took these from them. I had never heard this song in my life.
Aside from the atrocious grammar of the first sentence, Avril is wrong on TWO fronts. The first front is that the lyric is the exact same. Not the written same. There is a Ramones song called I wanna be your boyfriend, but I would not say that it is a carbon copy of the original song, which this one is. Additionally, the copying is added to by the fact that it is delivered in the exact same METER as the original. Lyrics can change, meter cannot.

This might not be one of those things that Avril knows about: the meter. She should listen to the two songs together because if she didn't hear the song before, someone around her heard it. The song has the exact same rhythm as the original in its choruses. If she hasn't heard the song before, someone's sensibilities are the exact same as The Rubinoos and it's hard for a songwriter to have the same sensibilities as a one-hit wonder from the 1970s.

Let's put this out here now: Avril Lavigne cannot be as dumb as her comments seem; she is playing willful ignorance. Someone within her crew, herself included, knows this song and copied it. The last time I checked, that's plagiarism. She didn't steal it verbatim. I wouldn't suggest that because, in points, her song is markedly different. But, verbatim or not, sampling from another source is still plagiarism without appropriate credit. But, I have to have proof. I don't make unsubstantiated claims all of the time. Only like 75% of the time.

To prove this, I did what I normally do when a battle like this starts up: I went on youtube. The main problem with the videos on youtube is that they sample the beginning of Avril's song where there is no guitar, which is all the original version is. The meter of the two is the same at this point, but this doesn't really say a lot.

The more telling comparison between the songs is at the middle of Avril's song. The guitar fill after the chorus in Girlfriend is the same as the Rubinoos version. On a stupider note, people are trying to claim that the Rolling Stones will sue both because they stole the "hey hey you you" from their song. While true, no one will win a suit on such flimsy grounds. If this were true, everyone would sue each other for using the same lyrics. We'll disregard this for the sake of argument.

So, once again, youtube serves worthless in trying to solve a dilemma. So, I went to the source. The Rubinoos put up three MP3s for their songs and a link to the Avril video. Now, listen to the Rubinoos version and Avril's version THEN listen to the Lush version. Avril's version sounds a lot like Lush's version, which is an authorized version of the Rubinoos song. Additionally, Avril's song sounds like the Rubinoos version, meter wise with the same riffs. Avril will most likely win this lawsuit because the Court will never rule for the plantiff unless the song is the exact same, which this one is not. But, The Rubinoos do deserve compensation for this case. Hey, All Music Guide agrees with me.

Epilogue: For all of the Avril fans who might find this post, save your anger for something more functional than defending a corporate stooge dressed in Hot Topic while not knowing who laid down the foundations for her to be a "punk rocker". Ask why your beloved artist is going to cause the death of independent radio. Ask why your beloved artist is leading to the sanitation of commercial radio. Ask why yourself why you are standing by idly as this happens. Channel that anger instead and do something useful for yourself. Go write your senator/congressperson about these issues. Or, if you are civically disengaged and a bad citizen because of it, pick up Pure Mania, The Germs, Los Angeles, The Misfits, and Pink Flag and learn something about real punks, real rock & roll, and real music all at the same time.