Is Petty being petty?


Zac Johnson, Entertainment Editor

With the rise of the internet and the massive availability of music, it comes as no surprise when artists start drawing a little too much inspiration from places besides their own creativity. Sam Smith, one of the original authors of his song ‘Stay With Me’, which has been on the Billboard Hot 100 for going on 17 weeks now, has recently reached a quiet agreement with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne giving them 12.5% writing credit on the song. The two new authors are also the creators of the Tom Petty 1989 hit, ‘I won’t back down’, which upon listening to, definitely shares similarities with Smith’s song.

Petty and Lynne are being called out for being, well, petty, because as many have pointed out the songs are indeed somewhat similar but the latter is nowhere near a blatant ripoff. The most similar parts of the songs are the melodies in each chorus which are practically the same. Why this is such a big deal is really not entirely clear to me because as we create more and more music the amount of original, and appealing melodies will dwindle and there will need to be other things that set them apart. Appealing is the key thing to look at, because in reality there are millions upon millions of different melodies that could be played, but only a fraction of those are actually worth listening to.

There are hundreds maybe even thousands of incidents like this that have occurred in the music world. A quick google search can tell me how Sublime ripped off the Beatles, One Direction ripped off The Who, The Red Hot Chili Peppers ripped off Tom Petty, and The Strokes…also ripped off Tom Petty. Why are these any different? No lawsuits were filed and it was left up to listeners to decide how similar they thought the tracks were. Even the bands who ripped off Tom Petty seemed to be given the go ahead by him and he just decided to let it be.

Personally this makes me wonder one of two things, is Petty just tired of getting ripped off? Or maybe it wasn’t even him who decided to cash in on the royalties produced by ‘Stay With Me’. It could’ve very easily been some executive from the label that produced his song ‘I Won’t Back Down’ who wanted to make a buck off of giving Petty writing credit.

It really seems like people will find a way to make anything their problem, and even if they have no way of knowing whether or not their opinion is correct they still feel the need to share it with everyone. To be honest I don’t think it matters too much, each song is different in its’ own right. We really are starting to get to a point where musicians have to consider that the possibilities are running out, making things original is going to have to start going beyond the basic principles of songwriting.

Catchy songs are catchy because of a combination of frequencies, kind of like the words in poems or books. While original thoughts and concepts should be protected in some way, I believe that unless they are almost exactly identical throughout the better part of the piece then it should not be up to the law to decide whether or not a person has infringed on someone else’s ‘property’.