As a composer, you know that chords provide the backbone of a song. They provide the harmonic foundation that supports the melody and lyrics. But what you may not realize is that even simple chord progressions can be subject to copyright protection. Whether or not they can be copyrighted is a complex subject and depends on a number of factors. In this blog post, we’ll explore the basics of copyright in chords and what it means for music creators.
What is Copyright?
Before we dive into copyright in chords, it’s important to understand what copyright is. Copyright is a legal right that grants exclusive rights to the creator of an original work, such as a piece of music, to control how it is used and distributed. This includes the right to reproduce, distribute, and perform the work.
Music is a form of creative expression that is protected by copyright law. This means that any original piece of music, including lyrics, melody, and harmony, is protected by copyright as soon as it is created. This includes recordings, sheet music, and even chord progressions.
Copyright in Chords
Chord progressions are a series of chords played in a particular order that form the harmonic structure of a piece of music. While individual chords are not subject to copyright protection, a unique sequence of chords can be considered an original work of authorship and therefore protected by copyright.
However, it’s important to note that not all chord progressions are eligible for copyright protection. To be eligible, the chord progression must be original, distinctive, and recognisable to the work. It must be more than a simple repetition of common chords and show some level of creativity and originality.
For example, suppose you decide to use the chord progression from an Adele song as a basis for your own work. In that case, this alone would not qualify as copyright infringement. However, if you incorporate the same rhythms, voicing, instrumentation, and similar sounds from the original song, you may be at risk of infringing on copyright and facing legal action.
What Does This Mean for Music Creators?
If you are inspired by someone else’s song and want to use its chord progression as a foundation for your own work, that’s perfectly acceptable. However, it’s essential to ensure that you create something that is distinctive and original. It’s crucial to avoid making your lyrics, rhythms or sounds too similar to theirs. If your work ends up sounding too much like theirs while using their chord progression, you risk crossing the line into copyright infringement.
While there are only a finite number of chord combinations that work well, there are countless songs that utilize the same chord progressions. However, each of these songs sounds distinct from one another. The reason for this is that the composer or creator has experimented with the chord progression and infused their unique creativity into the music, rather than simply copying someone else’s work. By doing so, they’ve created something that stands out and is original.
When using chord progressions as a foundation for your music creation, it’s important to keep in mind that you should aim to create something that is unique and original. While utilizing a specific chord progression can be helpful, it’s crucial to infuse your own sound and intention into the music. By doing so, you can ensure that your music stands out and is not merely a carbon copy of something that has been done before.