Deja Vu: Why Olivia Rodrigo keeps giving up songwriting credits

Sep 21, 09:00 AM

In the last few years music copyright claims have skyrocketed. More and more artists are giving songwriting credits away. Frequently, credits are given retroactively to avoid the cost of long jury trials like when Sam Smith credited Tom Petty. Smith’s melody for “Stay With Me” clearly drew from Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” On rare occasions these cases go to court, where music litigation is at an all time high. In the last ten years there have been 190 public cases, up over 350% from the prior decade, according to The George Washington University & Columbia Law School Music Copyright Infringement Resource. This story has come in and out of the news cycle in closely watched jury trials including artists like Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, and Katie Perry. Historically, courts have extended copyright to only unique combinations of words and music, not rhythms, chords, instruments. But recent cases increasingly litigate the core building blocks of music. Many artists fear that a bad court...

In the last few years music copyright claims have skyrocketed. More and more artists are giving songwriting credits away. Frequently, credits are given retroactively to avoid the cost of long jury trials like when Sam Smith credited Tom Petty. Smith’s melody for “Stay With Me” clearly drew from Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” On rare occasions these cases go to court, where music litigation is at an all time high. In the last ten years there have been 190 public cases, up over 350% from the prior decade, according to The George Washington University & Columbia Law School Music Copyright Infringement Resource.


This story has come in and out of the news cycle in closely watched jury trials including artists like Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, and Katie Perry. Historically, courts have extended copyright to only unique combinations of words and music, not rhythms, chords, instruments. But recent cases increasingly litigate the core building blocks of music. Many artists fear that a bad court outcome could let an artist copyright a “vibe” using commonly used musical language.  


The question of whether someone can borrow a vibe resurfaced when Olivia Rodrigo shared songwriting credits on her hit 2021 album Sour with Taylor Swift, and comparisons have been made to the art of Courtney Love and music of Elvis Costello. Many listeners have commented on Rodrigo’s more obvious influences on social media. Viral TikTok videos compared Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” to Paramore’s “Misery Business,” which share a common chord progression and vibe. This online campaign likely contributed to Rodrigo handing songwriting credits, also known as publishing, to Hayley Williams and Josh Farro of the band Paramore. 


This week we are airing the conversation Switched On Pop’s Charlie Harding had on the podcast Decoder with host Nilay Patel who is also editor and chief of The Verge. Together we try to understand how the byzantine music copyright system works, and how its rules affect the sound of pop music today and in the future. 


SONGS DISCUSSED - Spotify Playlist

  • Sam Smith - Stay With Me
  • Tom Petty - I Won’t Back Down 
  • M.I.A. - Paper Planes
  • The Clash - Straight To Hell
  • Olivia Rodrigo - deja vu
  • Taylor Swift - Cruel Summer
  • Olivia Rodrigo - good 4 u
  • Paramore - Misery Business
  • Robin Thick, T.I., Pharrell Williams - Blurred Lines
  • Marvin Gaye - Got To Give It Up
  • Katy Perry, Juicy J - Dark Horse
  • FLAME , Lecrae, John Reilly - Joyful Noise
  • Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
  • Spirit - Taurus
  • Michael Bolton - Love Is a Wonderful Thing
  • The Isley Brothers - Love Is A Wonderful Thing
  • Taylor Swift - Look What You Made Me Do
  • Right Said Fred - I’m Too Sexy
  • Doja Cat, SZA - Kiss Me More
  • Olivia Newton-John - Physical
  • Anne-Marie - 2002

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