If a song uses the same chord as another, is that theft?

| Oct 1, 2020 | Intellectual Property Litigation

Have you ever been listening to a song on the radio and thought that it sounded like a song you’d already heard? This is pretty common. You may think that one artist stole the idea or the music from the other.

This topic gets a bit confusing, though, because the reality is that the same four chords are used in a lot of songs. You can even move them around — by putting a capo on a guitar, for instance — to change the exact chords that are being used while keeping the same progression. A song that is written a half-step higher may still sound very much like the song that was written a bit lower, as long as that progression is the same.

To make fun of how this works, one band put together a compilation of 73 different songs, playing them all with one progression. Some of the songs included on the list are:

  • “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz
  • “Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey
  • “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver
  • “Let It Be” by The Beatles
  • “When I Come Around” by Green Day

These are just five examples, and you can already see that these are some of the most popular bands and songs of all time. And this is nothing new. There are only so many basic chord progressions, and they get recycled over and over again in all different styles and genres.

That said, when songs really are too close, it often leads to lawsuits alleging intellectual property theft. Since these cases can be very complicated, those involved must know what legal options they have.