How many notes are needed for musical plagiarism? There is no minimum number

In 2021, i Måneskin they triumph at Sanremo festival with the song Shut up and good. Immediately after the victory the chatter starts: their song would be a plagiarism by FDT, a 2015 piece by Anthony Laszlo. Indeed, the songs have similarities, especially on a textual level in the rebellious cry of the chorus: “I’m out of my mind!”.

If the Anthony Laszlos had filed a plagiarism lawsuit against the Måneskin, would they have been right? First of all, let’s see what is meant by plagiarism and then, through the examples of causes brought at an international and national level, we understand if also for Shut up and good there would have been grounds for an accusation or not.

How to understand if the song is plagiarism?

According to Italian copyright law and according to article 2575 of the civil code, every work of art is automatically protected by Copyright. Hence, plagiarism can be considered as a unauthorized reproduction, total or partial of an artistically protected work, in violation of copyright.
Up to this point everything is clear and clear, but it remains to be clarified what is meant by partial reproduction. Is there a minimum number of notes or beats beyond which two songs can be considered “partially the same”?

The answer is no. There is no established number of notes or lines to outline plagiarism. This is because a song is made up of many elements: the textone melodyThe rhythm… It would make no sense to establish a precise number of notes or beats.

So how do you decide if a song is plagiarism? Simply, the judge decides case by case. The law says that plagiarism occurs when a song arouses the same feelings in the listener of another song. Understand that this is something very subjective. But usually the judge, who is clearly not a music expert, relies on a musical expert. Ennio Morricone, for example, has been called to court several times to consider accusations of plagiarism.

The criteria for establishing plagiarism are therefore quite nuanced and usually, with regards to light musicthe appraiser pays particular attention to melody. However, as we will see in some famous cases in the history of music, this rule is not always valid.

Al Bano vs. Michael Jackson, Subsonica vs. Morricone: some famous cases

In 1997, Michael Jackson presents himself to the court of Rome, accused of plagiarism by Al Bano. The song is at the center of the dispute Will you be therewhich the Italian singer accuses of being copied from his The swans of Bakala. Indeed, the melodies of the two songs are very similar: in court, the experts count a lot 37 notes below equal. The court, however, concludes that there are no grounds for a conviction of plagiarism, since both songs are reminiscent of a third song from 1939, namely Blessing you for being an angel of the Ink spots. In the Al Bano-Jackson case, the judge rejected Al Bano’s accusation because his song lacked the originality requirement.

The same thing happened with the accusation of plagiarism against the Led Zeppelin which, with the opening riff of the song Stairway to Heavenhad been accused of copying the song Taurus (1968) of Spirits. But the judge ruled that the opening round of notes it was very common and therefore not directly copied.

However, a different fate befell the Beach Boyswho had to cede the rights to theirs Surfin’ USA to the family of Chuck Berryfor copying his song Sweet little sixteen (1958).

There are other famous examples of plagiarism accusations. Moving to our country, the story of the Subsonicwho they accused in a tweet Ennio Morricone of having plagiarized their famous piece All my mistakes (1999) with the song Still here (which was part of the soundtrack of The Hateful Eight by Tarantino). But even this case was not judged to be plagiarism.

The ways to combine them are not infinite, which is why there may be similarities and accusations of plagiarism they often fall on deaf ears. In music then, as in all the arts, it is normal for artists to influence each other and let each other be inspired.

So what happened to the accusation of plagiarism against the Måneskin? As mentioned, Anthony Laszlo did not sue the Sanremo winning band and, on the contrary, took its defense. Probably, they must have thought of those who shouted plagiarism… “I’m out of my mind!”.