Singer-songwriter Cat Stevens says he may sue Coldplay. Did you hear about this? He said that his son brought it to his attention that "Viva La Vida" sounds like his 1973 song "Foreigner's Suite" and that he might consider suing for plagiarism.
But first, he wants to wait and see what happens with U.S guitarist Joe Satriani who has already sued Coldplay for copyrights infringement. Satriani says parts of his song "If I could fly" were recycled in "Viva La Vida".
What do you think about all this? I think it's idiotic. The music business of the last several decades has been the biggest property protection scheme of all time. The industry became synonymous with the word lawyer. You were instructed to copyright every single composition because it mattered a great deal to your CD sales.
Now, indie musicians know they can't protect their music. The rules have changed dramatically. Cat Stevens must know this; that's why he's eagerly awaiting the Satriani verdict.
I used to know a music lawyer at the firm of Selverne, Mandelbaum and Mintz in New York. He thought he was the shit until he lost his job early this year because the firm's struggling to find work. This is a firm that has represented Ludacris, Nelly and Cassie. The walls in their waiting room were festooned with awards and plaques when I was in there several years ago. But now this dude's out of a job. It's when shit like this goes down that I know the traditional record industry is screwed.
The last thing an indie music artist in this day and age really needs is to be losing sleep over protecting intellectual property. I'm not saying you should let people rip your songs word for word(that rarely happens anyway). I'm just saying, times have changed and you have very little control over what happens to your intellectual property these days.
As a result, instead of being in a constant protectionist mindset when it comes to your music, you should be focusing mostly on collecting what's called mindshare. It's the best way to protect yourself and compete.
Media futurist Seth Godin writes on his blog about the elements of a business model. They are:
1. What compelling reason exists for people to give you money? (or votes or donations)
2. How do you acquire what you're selling for less than it costs to sell it?
3. What structural insulation do you have from relentless commoditization and a price war?
4. How will strangers find out about the business and decide to become customers?
All four of these will always be relevant to any business no matter the era. Business is business. It's just the form each takes that changes with the times. All of these are also highly relevant to the music business.
Number three is important because that's where mindshare fits in. And that matters to you right now. If you want to copyright all of your intellectual property, that's fine, but all I'm going to say is good luck with that. The labels have all been there before and failed.
The way you protect yourself now isn't by copyrighting and suing the hell out of people. It's by building a network that's difficult for someone else to disrupt. Personal branding is an important aspect of all this. We live in an age of personal branding. We also live in an age where it's hard to persuade people with soulless sloganeering. People want stories to be convinced. They want you to persuade them with your stories, not your sound bites.
Music is no different. People want to feel like you're with them. Like you're a good friend. Not hiding behind a wall of legalese.
Thing is, once people are loyal to you, it's hard for someone else to come in and take them from you. Once you've made people loyal to you, you've captured mindshare. It's how you protect yourself from competition. And it's powerful. Because in this day and age, marketing is largely about storytelling, there are many ways to capture mindshare.
Suing people doesn't work anymore. It just pisses people off.