Andy on the Road

13 September 2009

Joe Satriani v. Coldplay ends in settlement.

Filed under: intellectual property,music,nerdingout — Andy @ 12:49 pm

Whenever Coldplay releases an album these days it starts a small wave of copyright litigation.  Last year’s Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends was no exception.  Last week, however, that docket got a little bit lighter, as the most prominent infringement case settled.  Joe Satriani, famed rock guitarist and founder of the G3 tours, claimed in a lawsuit back in December that the title track off of Viva La Vida infringed Satriani’s copyright in his 2004 track if “If I Could Fly.”  In essence, Satriani argues “Viva La Vida” copied his song without permission.  Here are both for comparison:


Joe Satriani – If I Could Fly


Coldplay – Viva La Vida

For a really ill-informed discussion of this case, check out the comments on the Satriani YouTube post.  For a more music-theory based discussion of their similarity, check out this excellent YouTube video from a guitar instructor in Canada.

On the music side of this (and largely care of the above posted video) here’s the rundown: Coldplay’s song is in a slightly swung rhythm at about 138 BPM, in the key of F minor doing a VI–VII–III–i (Dbmaj–Ebmaj–Abmaj–Fminor) progression.  Satriani’s song is also at about 138 BPM, roughly the same rhythm, and the chorus goes through a iv–VII-III-i progression in B minor (Em7–Amaj-Dmaj7–Bm).  At this most fundamental level, the only variants between the two are the key and the first chord of the progression – and the two different chords are actually quite similar.  The VI chord in the Coldplay is the relative major of the iv chord in the Satriani (which is to say if they were in the same key they’d share 2 out of the three notes in the chord).  In other words, the meter is the same, the chords are virtually identical, and where the chords vary they still are quite similar harmonically.  Now, this progression is just a progression, and as an old song from my band notes there’s a lot of songs that share the same three or four chords.  Nevertheless, it is a fairly unique progression, a fact which wouldn’t bode well for Coldplay.  There are many other elements to consider, but it does certainly lay a musical foundation for substantial similarity.

As for the legal analysis, it’s important to remember that the substantial similarity between these two would have to be either admitted by Coldplay or found at trial (Coldplay demanded a jury trial in their answer, so it would have gone to a jury to decide unless the evidence was so overwhelming as to lead a judge to direct a verdict on that point).  Absent such a finding or stipulation, I can’t say for sure whether the harmonic structure, meter, and rhythm alone would be legally sufficient.  Satriani would also have to prove that Coldplay had access to the work, but given how broadly Satriani is distributed and how broad Coldplay’s musical arms reach I don’t imagine this would be difficult.  Coldplay seems to have challenged this exact point in their Answer, however, arguing as an affirmative defense that these two songs were independent creations.  In other words, Coldplay did their song without ever hearing the Satriani song.  This was one of nine affirmative defenses in their Answer that Satriani would have had to get around, although some of the defenses look a little dubious. (Including “lack of originality” in the Satriani work, which either suggests that Satriani’s work does not have the requisite creativity, which is preposterous, or that Satriani forfeited copyright through 17 U.S.C. § 103(a) by using other copyrighted material without permission, which is highly unlikely.)

Whatever we think of Satriani, Coldplay, or the case in question, the answers to all these legal problems have left the realm of the courts.  The parties asked to settle the case in front of an arbiter in July, and last Wednesday the parties filed a joint stipulation for dismissal of the lawsuit.  Either Satriani was scared off or (more likely) the parties came to some form of settlement.  The question of whether Satriani would have won at trial is now left to speculation by the copyright nerds of the world.

If you’re still interested in the details of the case and up for some legal digging, this case is captioned Satriani v. Martin et al, and all of the filings are up on Justia.  In May, Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) also claimed “Viva La Vida” infringed his original “Foreigner Suite” and threatened action, but about a month later he dropped the suit.

Update – 15 Sept, 8AM: Justia posted two more filings on the Satriani v. Martin docket yesterday, including an official order to dismiss the case with prejudice (meaning that Satriani may not file the case again).  Not too much to see here; I suspect someone will have to get in touch with the parties to hear the details of the settlement.

I also want to take a second to say hello to the folks over at Techdirt for mentioning my blog yesterday while covering this story. Many thanks!

Update 2 – 23 Sept, 10AM: I realize in the comments I was playing it a little fast and loose with the degree to which expert testimony would be admissible with respect to the infringement, so I want to clarify:

Independent origin is a total defense to copyright infringement.  If I were a monk in Nepal and I came up with a song identical to “Viva La Vida” without ever hearing Coldplay’s song to begin with, I could not be found to infringe Coldplay’s song.  However,  proving this degree of “copying” can be very difficult absent party or witness admission (“Yes, I saw Chris Martin at a Joe Satriani concert where he played ‘If I Could Fly.’  Chris had his tape recorder out.”).  Accordingly, courts allow expert testimony to show how unique elements may be used as circumstantial evidence of direct copying (“Given these unique factors, it’s highly unlikely that Chris Martin would have come up with this on his own were it not for hearing Satriani’s song.” combined with “‘If I Could Fly’ was a #1 on Top of the Pops for two weeks and it’s extremely likely that Chris heard it.”).   This is sometimes called the “access/striking similarity” inference of copying.

Proving “copying” is only half of the battle, however.  Satriani would also have to prove that he copied the elements in such a way as to be unlawful appropriation.  Not all copying is copyright infringement, after all, and his copying would have to go to the protectable elements of the expression, and not just the abstract ideas.  The courts have employed variety of techniques in finding this, but at the heart they all recognize this as being the province of the jury, and not the experts.  In other words, we play both and ask the jury to determine whether the copying done in the secondary work is “too much” of the original.  The term most often tossed around here is “substantial similarity,” which helps to illustrate to a degree.

An example might help illustrate: I really love the guitar work of Marc Ribot in Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs.  Were I to try and create that same over-driven Telecaster flamenco-infused soloing in my own song, I am “copying” Ribot but my copying is not so substantial as to be infringement (I think.).  However, as I start to appropriate more – say the notes of the solo or the lyrics of the song or even the chord changes and tempo – this might start to feel more like infringement.

Were Ribot to sue me, he would first either have to prove that I copied his work (I think this blog post might be a good piece of evidence to start with) or prove through circumstantial evidence that I had access and through expert witnesses that the songs are so strikingly similar that I could not have come up with it without copying, and then persuade the jury that my copying was so substantial that it interferes with his monopoly conferred by copyright.  Market harm or other data may be introduced as evidence here to help draw inferences, but ultimately it is for the jury, and not experts, to decide.

So, to artificially draw up some parameters here as a court might, the evidence above about chord structure and melody would go to the “access/striking similarity” inference of copying, and is best paired with some other evidence as to the popularity of “If I Could Fly.”  (SoundScan has Is There Love in Space?, the album containing this song, as selling around 90,000 copies worldwide, for what it’s worth.)  All of this goes to the question of “copying.”  To take this copying into the realm of infringement, however, requires a juror (say, you) to listen to both and determine whether the copying is so substantial as to constitute infringement.  Naturally, this is subject to dispute.

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50 Comments »

  1. So, has a case like this ever made it into court? How the heck would you prove this to a jury? The comparison of the meter and chord progression is compelling, but I have quite a bit of music experience and I don’t know enough music theory to argue about the similarities between a Dbmaj and Em7 relative to the songs’ respective keys. Would the jury deliberation devolve into listening to the two songs over and over and deciding whether they sound “similar enough”? Similar enough seems like a pretty dangerous legal precedent in the world of music.

    Of course, the various rock musicians of the world could probably form a class and succeed against Coldplay for ripping off the entire genre and general crimes against humanity.

    Comment by Jeremy — 13 September 2009 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

    • The most famous case I can think of along these lines would be Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, 420 F. Supp. 177 (S.D.N.Y. 1976), wherein the writer of “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons sued (and won against) George Harrison for his “My Sweet Lord.” In that case expert testimony came in from musicologists and music historians to plot out the similarities and differences between the two. I found a nice UCLA web site that lays it out:

      http://cip.law.ucla.edu/cases/case_brightharrisongs.html

      I don’t think we’d expect (or truly want) a lay jury to decide copying absent some expert testimony. Music is a complicated thing, contrary to what some believe, and we should treat it as we would any other refined structural system.

      I like the general crimes against humanity argument, though. I wonder if we could certify “true music fans” as a class to make an action for emotional distress?

      Okay, that’s enough nerding for now.

      Comment by Andy — 13 September 2009 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  2. Hmm, established rock god and teacher of so many other guitar virtuosos with a 30 year reign of originality and a contribution to music to rival some of the best that has ever been versus luke warm watered down rock for the middle class ikea consumer who names his children after fruit…… No surprise on the settlement i think. And lets all look forward to watching satan himself rape martin day after day in the eternity of hell for his imposter crimes against rock.

    Comment by Steve — 18 September 2009 @ 7:46 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting. I have to disagree with the assertion that the four chord progression (with either opening chord) is ‘fairly unique’, being as it is only the slightest step away from VI-VII-V-I, a much used pop formulation (e.g. Dilemma, Never Gonna Give You Up, Being Boring to name but three).

    It seems inexplicable that the use of four or five consecutive notes a few times in a verse and the last line of a chorus could be considered theft in this well-trodden context, particularly as the hooks of VLV lie elsewhere (the opening string motif and the woah-oh-oh chant being prime contenders – the live version demonstrates this pretty well).

    One can only conclude that Satriani saw some cheap and easy publicity ripe for the taking, with the added kudos of being widely viewed as the plagiarized (‘the serious rock muso’) and not the plagiarizer (‘the knowingly commercial pop/rock combo’); no smoke without fire and all that. A lucrative business decision, perhaps, but more cynical and calculated than any Coldplay song yet written.

    Comment by Mark Northfield — 19 September 2009 @ 9:07 am | Reply

    • I’m with you up to a point, Mark. I agree that progressions are just progressions – though we also here have tempo, rhythm, and the fact that both are in a minor key (the last point being a small one, but relevant). I see the argument reduced down to just the progression all over the place online, and it’s really much more than that. As the video I linked to above notes the progression is just one piece in the puzzle, and all pieces matter. From a legal perspective, were this to go to trial, the sides would have brought in experts and it would be up to a jury to decide whether or not they found that the two were “substantially similar.” Your translating the progression into a major key and comparing to other popular songs would have helped make Coldplay’s case, but Satriani would have put up experts of his own, and in the end the jury would decide which they found more convincing.

      As for whether this is similar in lay musical terms, that’s up for us to debate (as I’m sure we all will, for some time). I’m not sure what you mean by the “four or five consecutive notes” argument, but I think the crux Satriani’s argument lay elsewhere, namely in the fact that similarities noted above. We will never know for sure what they would have argued, as the trial did not get far enough for them to make their arguments.

      And I really disagree with your end conclusion. Satriani is one of the most respected rock guitarists in the world. When I was growing up I subscribed to Guitar World, and I recall countless issues featuring him on the cover or in the articles. I don’t think he was power hungry, or trying to induce bad will towards Coldplay, and I’m sure he knew that bringing a lawsuit would put the spotlight on him in a negative way as well. In my experience, musicians don’t do that to other musicians unless they have good reason. I also disagree with the premise of your conclusion: that I or anyone else thinks that this was a calculated move by Coldplay. Were it true that Coldplay “took” the riff from Satriani (be it enough to be copyright infringement or not), I think it’s much more likely that Coldplay heard the song, forgot about it, started writing Viva La Vida, and in their subconscious hearkened back to the song. As a musician yourself I’m sure you’re familiar with this situation. It happens to all of us.

      Comment by Andy — 19 September 2009 @ 10:36 am | Reply

  4. Hi. Many thanks for taking the time to reply to me. Apologies if I ramble a little in return…

    I fully take your point about it being more than just the progression. Clearly the tempo/rhythm is similar (even if VLV accents every beat of the bar, unlike IICF), but the melodies diverge after 2 bars (which is what I meant by the four or five notes) even while the chords continue to run in parallel. The similar pop progression I mentioned as an example was intended to be a minor key one, though I realise in retrospect that two of my quoted examples were major key songs. Agh! (So they have IV-V-III-VI: the same basic pattern.)

    Whilst I’m no expert in these matters (as the above mistake proves) I can’t help but think that attempting to claim copyright over so few notes is just a little bizarre, even if there are other musical similarities present. The fact that it’s not the hook in VLV would probably be highly relevant to a court case.

    Yes, Satriani is a well-respected guitarist (and rightly so – he’s bloody good at it), but everyone is capable of doing stupid things in their lives, sometimes for money. Maybe he simply followed some bad advice here, I dunno; I’d like to think that that’s all it was. Reading commentary elsewhere on the internet it’s clear there are many people who agree with him, and that this whole saga merely proves how shallow and talentless Coldplay are…

    As it happens, I actually quite like Coldplay (particularly their last album) as a piano-led pop band who happen to use guitars. But, to defend my earlier point, pop music (with or without guitars) is necessarily calculated and a little bit cynical: it nearly always has to make an effort not to do anything too unexpected in order to maintain its ‘pop’ status. That doesn’t mean it has no heart, of course, and there is often great beauty in simplicity. Nor does it mean the writers are plagiarists, though it will frequently appear as if they are.

    There are those who despise pop music exactly because of this limitation, and any battle between a pop act and a rock act ends up being about the worth of one over the other, almost regardless of the details of the case. One can hope a jury would be neutral, but who knows what musical prejudices lie hidden?

    Perhaps Satriani has fallen into the trap of thinking himself more important because he’s a ‘proper’ rock artist? He’s quoted as saying: ‘I’m just doing what I need to do as an artist, to protect what’s mine, to protect those feelings I put down in song’ and that hearing VLV was ‘…like a dagger went right through my heart. It hurt so much.’ I think this stretches credulity rather, and given the publicity the case inevitably generated (you can hardly sue Coldplay in secret) why should we take his protestations at face value? Because he’s a serious rock musician? Hmmmm. Call me cynical… ;)

    Anyway, I’ll shut up now, and go back to my own unwitting creative theft!

    Best wishes.

    Mark

    Comment by Mark Northfield — 21 September 2009 @ 12:24 pm | Reply

    • @ “Mark Northfield” –
      Give it up, Man. If Coldplay ‘had’ a case there’s know way they’d have settled and not only compromised their “rightful” intellectual property and reputation, but will have ‘paid’ someone else for that privilege. That ‘Satch’ did, IMO shows that he wasn’t just in it for the (unneeded) publicity or money, but to claim his rightful property; that you’d even consider that as being his position really shows your complete ignorance re: what a “true” musician is.

      Fact is, Martin/Coldplay stated; “If there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental and just as surprising to us as to him.” – anyone with more than two functioning brain cells recognizes that statement is complete and utter BS, with the settlement bearing it out.

      Face it, your pop ‘hero’ is not only a liar, but a thief who either thinks his fans and the musical community were too ignorant to catch him or lack the intellectual honesty to care. I wonder in which category someone as (ahem) intellectual as you attempt to express yourself falls. Hmmmmm…

      Catch you on the da flip side!
      dp

      Comment by dparks — 10 October 2009 @ 9:47 pm | Reply

      • …Or maybe Coldplay settled because they didn’t want the hassle of an unnecessary court case, and it’s not like they’re short of a few quid? I think Martin’s comment about any similarities being purely coincidental is entirely plausible, given the brevity of what’s involved. I’ve once or twice in my life written things only to discover a similarity later on with something else that I’d previously not heard. Major and minor scales have their limitations.

        One would hope that a major label’s lawyers would have flagged up any possible issues before something gets released, but I guess they’re simply not that efficient.

        Guess we’ll just have to disagree on this one. :)

        I should like to add that I’m no intellectual. However, I am a working musician and have been for quite a while. I’ve even released some of my stuff in recent years so you can Google me if you want proof… It’s not very rock n roll though!

        Best wishes.

        Mark

        Comment by Mark Northfield — 12 October 2009 @ 11:59 am

  5. I toured for about 20 years as a guitar technician and worked for dozens of bands in that time, and it doesnt take long when your couped up on a tour bus for months on end for you to see what kind of person someone “really is”. I have worked with good people and bad and like I will tell anyone willing to listen I had the priveledge of touring with Joe Satriani for about three years and I can say one thing about him that I can not say about any other artist I toured with, he is a guy that in three years I never heard raise his voice or have a bad thing to say about anyone even when the situation was bleak after talking with Joe you would feel more at ease and know that everything would work itself out. He is a guy that I still have the utmost respect for and in my opinion is a way cooler person than he is a good guitar player! although I havent spoken to him in years I am sure that he felt he had good reason to make this move!

    Comment by Chrispy — 6 October 2009 @ 4:23 pm | Reply

  6. These two songs have a similar (but not the same) hook. Total duration of those parts of the two songs which have ANY SIMILARITY WHATSOEVER: 14 seconds.

    And there are other songs out there using the same (or similar) riffs. For example, Cat Steven’s song “Foreigner Suite”, which, at its 14:20 timestamp, contains the riff from Satriani’s song, VERBATIM, to the words “I’ve met many other girls, but heaven must have programmed you”. (And Cat Stevens wrote his song 11 years earlier!) I’m sure you can find other songs using this same riff as well.

    Riffs stick in musicians’ heads and end up being reused, subconsciously. It is plagiarism? No. It’s the development BETWEEN repetitions of a riff that make a song. The three songs in question (“Viva La Vida”, “If I Could Fly”, and “Foreigner Suite”) have very DIFFERENT development between riffs. Three very different songs. No plagiarism involved. (I must say, I do like all three of these songs.)

    If Coldplay did settle out of court with Satriani, I think it was a spectacularly stupid move on Coldplay’s part. They should have taken it to court. With the small amount of similarity present, Satriani would have lost, and Coldplay would have been vindicated. As it is, Coldplay will now be assumed by the public have confessed to plagiarism (even though they are clearly innocent), and I’m guessing any settlement would involve Satriani getting some of the royalties (which promotes extortion via lawsuit). A lose-lose-lose-lose-lose situation for all. Fighting for one’s rights is nearly always better than giving them away.

    Comment by Robbie Hatley — 22 October 2009 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  7. 14 seconds you say? Yes but those 14 seconds are the hook. That melody is the essence of the song…the part that sticks in your head, and makes you hum along after you’ve heard it. I think Satch had a decent enough case. I suppose even if he didn’t, it was in Coldplay’s best interests to quiet things down as quickly as possible to limit any further PR damage. I’m sure some money exchanged hands…it’s how the world works.

    Comment by S. Denson — 9 November 2009 @ 11:55 pm | Reply

  8. [...] somewhere at Atlantic records? Recently there was some brouhaha and a lawsuit brought (and recently settled) to mega-band Coldplay by guitarist extraordinaire Joe Satriani who said the band had lifted one of [...]

    Pingback by Switchfoot does Black Sabbath « pastor mike weblog — 13 November 2009 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  9. [...] take place early next year. It looks like that’s not happening. Blaise points to a blog post noting that the two sides, appear to have come to a [...]

    Pingback by Coldplay and Satriani lawsuit already settled? : Coldplaying.com — 6 January 2010 @ 6:39 am | Reply

  10. Wow…what absolutely interesting points people have brought up here. i dont claim myself to be intelligent on legal aspects and things like that,but ive heard the 2 songs and the hook is similar. Iplay guitar myself and absolutely love the band Killing Joke. They have a unique guitar style that is pretty much uncopiable,but if you do someone whos familiar with Killing Joke can easily point it out. Suing someone for using the same chords is tricky. Take The Ramones- could they sue every pop band or punk band who used a I-IV-IV progression because they used it in every one of their songs? Could they be sued by some old rock n roll blues band who claimed The Ramones were just speeding up their songs? No,of course not. But this Joe Satriani song and Coldplay song not only bear similarities in the chords,but also in the melody over the chords- and how is that by accident? If i were a juror and heard it,id have to side with Satriani. There are certain things that a band or musician does that are their style- for example Slayer have lots of songs that have an open low E to 7th fret on A string E,to B,to B#,then a series of thirds..you can tell its Slayer. If any other band did that itd sound JUST like Slayer,and theyd win in a copyright or whatever suit.

    Comment by bobovdeath — 16 January 2010 @ 8:26 pm | Reply

    • Yes, it’s true that the hook in Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” is similar to the hook in Satriani’s “If I Could Fly”. But the hook in “If I Could Fly” is not original; it is IDENTICAL (not just similar) to a melody in Cat Stevens’ “Foreigner Suite”, starting at the 14:30 timestamp. Listen to it for yourself! This isn’t similarity; this is IDENTICALITY. Satriani clearly borrowed the hook for “If I Could Fly” from “Foreigner Suite”. Coldplay’s hook is just similar, not identical, to the Stevens/Satriani hook; they probably picked it up subconsciously from one of those two songs. Hooks get around. They stick in musicians’ minds, and often a musician will reuse one without even recognizing it. It is plagiarism? Not really. Else EVERY musician is guilty of plagiarism.

      Comment by Robbie Hatley — 17 January 2010 @ 12:43 am | Reply

  11. Excuse my typos,Im a bit drunk. Also,the Slayer songs I was referring to are “South Of Heaven”,”Dead Skin Mask”,”Spill The Blood”,and “Raining Blood”. Joe Satriani would win in this one,the melody AND chords are just too similar. I could think of dozens of meaningless pop drivel songs that have a decent,catchy melody in them that I could lift and put into a song,and who says Coldplay cant either? While Joe Satriani isnt exactly a pop megastar,it doesnt mean someone who writes Coldplay’s boring,drivel,put you to sleep music wasnt able to hear it- he has sold at least somewhat a significant amount of albums.

    And I’m not just siding with Joe Satriani because I find Coldplay incredibly boring either.

    Comment by bobovdeath — 16 January 2010 @ 8:35 pm | Reply

  12. This is a really interesting discussion and people are largely respectful although I think its a bit silly when some of the opinions are solely based on dislike of one of the parties or outright fandom. For what its worth I don’t like Coldplay or Joe Satriani, although I do hum the odd Coldplay song and respect Satriani’s obvious skill. I’m both a musician and a lawyer (not IP). From a guitar players perspective I know how you can accidentally appropriate. How many bands who listened to the incredibly simple Velvet Underground have droned on with G and C over the years. I wrote a song once that (it was pointed out to me) was identical to a Sterolab song, but since the 4 chords I used in 4/4 time must be getting banged out in 100 garages right now. Interestingly, the legal analysis illustates how the law likes to break things up into easily understandable components which often gets an answer, but not necessarily the truth. I think that the songs sound very similar melodically, but I still can’t see it being theft. I don’t think that alot of guitar fans really appreciate how obscure their idols are. Other than Surfing with the Alien I just do not think that Joe Satriani penetrates beyond the consciousness of serious guitar, metal fans and people who hang out in guitar shops. On the other hand, while they may make pop fluff, all the press you read of Coldplay suggests that they think of themselevs as serious ‘pop’ artists in that radiohead, Smiths REM vibe. (1) I just can;t see them every having an interest in a Joe satriani record and (2) with all the hits under their belts, why on earth would they have any desire to make as a single a track that sounds so obviously similar. Just like Joe, who seems like a nice guy, they don;t come across as evil a/holes either. Basically, I see the two groups as moving in different musical circles and the idea that Coldplay need to plagarise, in spite of how similar the tracks sound, is fanciful. By the way, the whole ‘Then why did the settle’ thing goes to show how little most people understand litigation. 90% of cases settle regardless of prospects. Most lawyers urge their clients to settle if there is any substantial chance of losing and I would say that in this case, regardless of merit, it was a 50/50 bet each way so purely to protect themselves from a negative judgement I can see why Coldplay settled.

    Comment by Hayden Jon — 4 February 2010 @ 1:16 am | Reply

  13. I remember a time when artists took pride in their work and didn’t need to steal from others. things have changed now ever since hip hop “artists” began taking records others made and added jiberish to it. Even the fans steal music now, songs are no longer works of art, they are files. Go to you tube and for every song written some jack ass took his mom’s camera and recorded his backyard with his favorite song and says, “hay check out my music video”. Is it any wonder we haven’t had a Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Hendrix, Clapton, Lady Day, or Beetles in so many years? We have destroyed music in this country by turning it into toilet paper squares that everyone wipes their @$$es with.

    Comment by Jon — 23 February 2010 @ 4:43 pm | Reply

    • I have to quibble with your characterization here, Jon. As any musicologist or historian will tell you musicians have been borrowing from each other as far back as records can indicate. Whether we like the direction we’re going in music or not, it’s not historically accurate to say extensive borrowing is a product of the past 20-50 years.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Comment by Andy — 23 February 2010 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  14. i understand what you are saying but inspiration is quite different, we all learn from our idols and then use what we learn in our own work, that is normal. A better analogy is this: music has always been a gift from our idols and a gift to those who learn from us, we give and take respectively. it is a community for introverts for lack of a better term. Now music is a machine that gives and takes according to what the mathematics of computers allow us to do, which in turn has stolen the soul of the music industry, artist and fan. Video killed the radio star and internet killed the star. I do enjoy you page will come by more often!

    Comment by Jon — 23 February 2010 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

  15. Andy,

    Was in a hurry before and quickly read your reply. Actually sampling has only been around for the past 40 or so years and that was what I was referring to not, other artists stealing ideas and/or multiple artists performing a popular piece of music which has been around since the Baroque period. So I am pretty accurate on that one.I was making a point of how bad it has become due to technology and anyone can agree that it is about 100 times worse now than it ever was in the years of Elvis (the greatest thief in musical history he stole the entire genre of blues and just sped up the tempo!) There is an artist who makes incredible remixes of popular films which you might find interesting, his name is Pogo and he made a song called Alice and Skynet Symphonic. It is a great topic of conversation for anyone involved in music legality issues. He makes a great point that we live in “remix” culture which is very true especially in the UK. Many artists are nobodys until they remix someone else’s work. the biggest difference is that 50 years ago, a popular song might have been played differently by many artists, but it was still performed. Now, it is almost always the actual wav file or mp3 that is digitally manipulated which is entirely different than reading sheet music and performing a piece of music. Personally I think if you can’t write your own music, you suck.

    Comment by Jon — 23 February 2010 @ 9:57 pm | Reply

    • I understand a desire to have a musical pedigree before composing, but I would add that neither Elvis nor the Beatles knew how to read European music notation. I’m not so sure I’d be so quick to dismiss artists simply because they use a different style of music synthesis.

      Also, to the sampling question: while, yes, sampling has only been around for about 50 years or so (I trace it to Steve Reich, Cage, and the NYC avant garde personally, but I’m not an expert on it). The idea of borrowing short phrases of other peoples works and incorporating them verbatim into other works goes back hundreds of years. Professor Arewa at Northwestern wrote a great paper to that effect which you can check out here:

      http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=633241

      I think we over-Romanticize our favorite artists – we like to think they have made these tremendous unique strides, but they borrow more from each other than history would indicate. We can disagree on whether we think this borrowing done through sound recordings and not compositions is different, or better, or worse, but as a foundation we should recognize that the idea of “borrowing” or “sampling” predates the technology substantially.

      Comment by Andy — 23 February 2010 @ 10:50 pm | Reply

  16. I will preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of Satch and I cant stand the music of Coldplay, I find it boring and extremely repetitive. However, I have also been in a legal industry for more than 15 years and I think I can be very objective and put aside any preconceived notions as well. I am a mediocre (at best) guitar player with a basic knowledge of music composition.

    I will also say that I listened to both songs once when this lawsuit was initially announced and to be honest, I just did not hear much similarity between the two. But now that some of people here have been talking about the chords and the progression I can start to see an argument.

    When you talk about a I IV V progression that the was used by the Ramones, you are talking about two notes per chord. Because they are playing power chords, you are talking about the root note, the 5th note and the octave of the root. Do I think that this can be copied, no. Even if it was identical, there are just not enough distinct notes in that to copyright, in my opinion.

    When you start talking about about a progression like VI–VII–III–i, which is not nearly as common as a I IV V, then I start to make more connections. If the only other example people could find was a Yusef Islam song written twenty years ago that only shares a short section that is similiar, I find that unique in itself, and that this would bolster Satch’s argument. And if the attorneys for Satch could make an argument that the same progression was used at almost the same tempo, in the same key, and then talk about passing notes and chromatic notes used to transition between the chords then I think you have an argument. I have not heard this argument demonstrated yet, but I would be willing to bet that Satch could make this argument otherwise I dont think he would have started the lawsuit.

    Do I think Coldplay stole from Satch? I have no idea, and remember that being “guilty” is entirely different from “doing it”. You can actually have committed a crime and not be guilty, OJ Simpson comes to mind. He is “not guilty”, but I think most reasonable people believe that he did it. Remember in a civil trial, the decision is not based on guilt beyond a reasonable doubt but is merely based on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning that it is more likely than not (so 51% likely that it occurred).

    I actually think the resolution was good for both parties. I have met Satriani once for a total of about 30 seconds and he would have no idea who I was, ever, but by all acounts he is a great guy and I do not think he was vindictive or calculated at all. I believe that he thinks that this took place and that he is doing what he thinks is best for him and other artists like him. I dont think he was trying to get a bunch of money, I believe that Satch was trying to protect his song. I also will give Coldplay the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word that they did not intentionally steal Satchs song.

    So in the end I think this benefits both parties and would not be surprised at all to find out that a relatively small amount of money exchanged hands and that the amount of money did not make Coldplay even blink an eye. And I would like to think that the resolved the issue in a fairly mature way. Shake hands and call it good. That is my hope anyway.

    I am a guitar player but I also believe that I can put aside any preconceived notions and look at the

    Comment by Aaron — 24 February 2010 @ 4:53 pm | Reply

  17. [...] Like Howard Roark, Porcupine Tree earned a small but passionate fanbase of listeners throughout their pursuit of personal artistic ideals.  Their music is beautiful, complex, rich, and versatile, but not everyone’s cup of tea.  Coldplay, their UK contemporaries, in step with with Peter Keating, have pursued a more accessible sound and become a household name.  Critically, however, they are a punchline. Even their most recent and most mature effort, Viva La Vida (an album I thoroughly enjoyed) received mixed reviews, and was under scrutiny for plagiarism. [...]

    Pingback by Coldplay Are Wankers | Character Nine — 1 March 2010 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

  18. Hmm…
    I do think the idea of Coldplay’s subconscious copying of Satch’s tune is fairly likely.

    The chord progression is fairly common, but the melody is not, and the melody is where the two songs bear the most resemblance.

    But then, if Coldplay took Satch’s riff, they still obviously didn’t take the whole song.
    Where Satch’s piece goes into more spontaneous and unique licks and phrases, Coldplay just continues to repeat that one line over and over, like a broken record.

    On the subject of Satch’s motivations, I think they are entirely just – He had been working on “If I could Fly” for nearly a decade at the time, and he had written it for his wife. It was intended to be his grand masterpiece. Naturally, he would have been offended and shocked if a generic pop/mellow band were to copy something he had spent so much effort making.

    The final thing I’d like to note (something that I found amusing) is, though Coldplay has nearly four times as many fans as Joe Satriani, all of Satriani’s fans are easily ten times as devoted.

    Coldplay is a passing fad. Satch however, is timeless.

    Comment by He who comments anonymously — 12 April 2010 @ 2:55 am | Reply

  19. Hi – I’m commenting here because the YouTube video by the Canadian guitar teacher has comments disabled. I think it would be pretty hard to prove plagiarism in court based on the “uniqueness” of the chord progression in both pieces, the reason being that the Canadian guitar teacher is incorrect in his analysis of the chords in the two songs. He is assuming that the fourth chord in each progression, the Fm in the case of Coldplay and the Bm in Satriani, are the tonic chords.

    But in both pieces, my ear is strongly drawn to the THIRD chord, (the Ab maj and the D maj, respectively) as the tonic. Taken in that light, the progressions become (Coldplay): IV V I vi and (Satch): ii V I vi, both of which are absolutely standard chord progressions used in probably many thousands of songs.

    I have no idea why the Canadian guitar teacher is analyzing the progression in such an unnecessarily complicated way, but I think that if any expert testimony were brought into court, it would be pretty difficult for either piece to claim any large degree of originality, at least based on the harmonic structure.

    Comment by Mike — 21 May 2010 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  20. It’s excellent news that they got this settled and Coldplay can continue with their next album.

    Regards,

    John the Coldplay Discography guy

    Comment by jubakala — 27 July 2010 @ 7:36 am | Reply

  21. I know I’m extremely late to this discussion, but I wanted to add my two cents. I did some digging when this lawsuit first came about, and found an older interview (2001 or 2002, I can’t remember exactly) where Chris Martin mentions Joe Satriani by name. So that completely blows away one of the statements Chris Martin had made where he said he has never even heard of Joe Satriani. Coldplay has also joked around extensively in many interviews about how they are the biggest rip-off artists in the history of music. Even if they are joking, they have said it so much there is most likely some truth there. Also, you failed to mention the incredible similarities between the two melodies, which is the most important part of the song. You can’t really base a music copyright lawsuit on chord progressions, but chord progressions, tempo, and melody? Well, infringement cases are hard to prove, but I think Satriani had an extremely good chance of winning a trial by jury.

    Comment by Jon — 6 August 2010 @ 11:47 am | Reply

    • Hi Jon, thanks for coming by. Statements like this are most certainly better supported with links to the Martin interview and wherever he said he hadn’t heard of Satriani.

      Also, this would, at most, only prove one half of an infringement claim – the access. Substantial similarity, as I note above would be necessary to sustain a claim. Chords and melody matter, but commonality of chords and melodies in music matters as well. This requires a great deal of further analysis to resolve.

      Comment by Andy — 6 August 2010 @ 11:54 am | Reply

      • Andy, re. “This requires a great deal of further analysis to resolve”, no. It was “resolved” in 1973. Listen to Cat Steven’s song “Foreigner Suite”. It’s an 18:15 song, but you need only listen to the last 4 minutes. All your questions will be answered.

        The Wikipedia article on “Foreigner Suite” has good info on Cat/Yusuf’s involvement in the Satriani/Coldplay case:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreigner_Suite

        Comment by Robbie Hatley — 27 August 2010 @ 1:02 am

    • Jon, re. “similarities between the two melodies”, go listen to Cat Steven’s “Foreigner Suite”, at the 14:30 timestamp, continuing to 18:13. Uh huh. Same melody as Satriani’s, *EXACTLY*, but written by Cat Stevens a decade earlier. Satriani plagiarized Cat Steven’s tune verbatim. By contrast, Coldplay’s tune is only “similar” (your own word), not identical, to the “Heaven Must Have Programmed You” section of “Foreigner Suite”. Yusuf Islam (formerly known as “Cat Stevens”) pointed out that he could sue both Satriani and Coldplay if he wanted to; but fortunately for them, he doesn’t want to. So there you have the real reason that Satriani and Coldplay never actually took their idiotic dispute to court: they’d look like idiots arguing over who ripped-off who’s ripoff from Cat Stevens.

      Comment by Robbie Hatley — 27 August 2010 @ 12:48 am | Reply

  22. Settlement was the best thing for both parties.

    Much better than either one be destroyed by
    the quibbling of a jury composed, most likely,
    of people who would end up judging by virtue
    of personal taste. It would have been a disaster.

    It was the best thing to do.

    Comment by roger — 20 January 2011 @ 6:18 am | Reply

  23. Coldplay probably wrote their song independently, but Satriani had a clear headstart in the copyright department. I thought the concept was whoever had the melody first pretty much owned it.

    Comment by rockman627 — 27 June 2011 @ 6:38 pm | Reply

  24. I love Satch but I truthfully think he needed some
    cash. This is a bit ridiculous.

    Comment by Jacob — 24 October 2011 @ 7:49 am | Reply

  25. Like someone already pointed out, settling silly disputes once and for all with cold hard cash does not automagically mean that an artist X is guilty of plagiarism.

    Personally I’d rather “donate” some of my money to another fellow musician directly than feeding armies of lawyers and ridiculing justice system for something so insignificant and retarded as calling another one a thief just because he formulated his simplistic tune out of the twelve possible notes before you had the chance to do so.

    Not saying Coldplay didn’t flat out plagiarize here, just saying that for every clear cut case there are two cases where the falsely accused just decided to not waste any more of their energy or time “to see justice done”, and instead opt for “being a better man”.

    It’s a load of rubbish and unfair to say that all artists steal or need to resort to stealing. But without a doubt any artist can always be _accused_ of plagiarism.

    There are only so many ways one can write another pop/rock tune, period. If you can hum/whistle a tune, you can also work out how to play it (at least badly) with any instrument (given time).

    No one has exclusive rights to simple pieces of melody that any average person (even while high as phuck) could come up with “accidentally”. Why don’t people (apart from 15-year-old “guitarists”, that is) moan about guitar shredders all sounding more or less the same? Well, for starters, no one could care less. And secondly, because no one could still care any less.

    Majority of people don’t listen to songs because they have killer solos, they listen to songs because they love those songs (despite of some of them having god-awful solos).

    ***

    In all honestly, this really seems like a classic case of Go-where-the-money’s-at…

    It would have been fair and logical for Cat Stevens to sue both Satriani and Coldplay for plagiarism. But of course there’s very little point of one underdog going after for another underdog…

    Don’t get me wrong. Stevens and Satriani are both well established and respected musicians in their own right and realm. It’s just that they lack the huge mainstream interest and appeal that Coldplay nowadays enjoys (ie. getting paid a lot less).

    In Satriani’s case one would have to be pretty heavily into the technical side of guitar playing to even recognize his name. That’s just the way it is in the real world.

    I was one of those 15-year-old disillusioned guitarists who are more than ready to assume that because someone is able to play faster and/or has more technical licks, then it automagically makes him/her a better guitarist too.

    In the most objective world imaginable Satriani or [insert your favorite guitar hero here] could well be proclaimed to be the most proficient and versatile guitar player in the whole universe, but I probably still couldn’t call him a great, good or even half-decent songwriter based on what I hear. I can appreciate Satriani’s obvious chops, but I fail to see him as a dude who manages to consistently churn out memorable songs. I don’t hold Coldplay’s lyrics in high regard (and that is me being kind), but I can honestly appreciate Martin’s obvious knack for catchy songwriting.

    On a more personal note, since I’m not married to them I care preciously little if an artist X would turn out to be the world’s most lovable human being or the biggest a-hole the world has ever seen. All I expect from a pop/rock musician is to come up with great tunes I can sing or at the very least hum along to. Otherwise they’re just wasting my time (and money).

    Thank god the era of albums turned out to be just a passing fad where the artists/labels made us pay for the multitude of half-assed songs when we only wanted to listen to the good ones. In the end, the customer is always right.

    Comment by anonanon — 14 November 2011 @ 7:21 am | Reply

    • Technical licks? Sounds like you are still disillusioned. Technical licks versus what? Non-technical? Is there such a thing? Every musician worth his weight in staff paper (guitarists included) should be as technically proficient as they can be (and not knock those who are more so), and only those who slack off and make excuses about the technicality of it (usually bedroom stoner guitar players) seem to find ways of dissing those who are. I’ve never heard anyone champion a sloppy violinist or cello player over one who isn’t. Sounds like another frustrated guitarist who couldn’t figure it out or digest the “technical” aspect of great musicianship and now takes sides knocking the ones who have and can. This usually descends into the “he doesn’t play with feeling…too technical” BS that only means you don’t get the feeling unless it’s bending the same few notes forever Bo Diddley style like a retarded lummox because you lack the “technical’ ability to do anything else. “Yeah, that’s feeling man!” I’m sure Mozart would love to hear his music had no feeling too…not enough “bendy” note in it man! That’s right up there with “More Cow Bell!”

      Anyway, I happen to think Satriani is a great song writer and just because he won’t get the billboard rankings that a made for commercial success band like Coldplay was designed for (even though Satriani has actually charted very well over the years for an instrumentalist with no vocals), doesn’t make them better writers, in fact; I would go as far as to say they aren’t writers at all and the majority of their “writing” was ripped off (their words, not mine) or done by others including Eno, who the time knew full well about Satriani and no doubt heard his song and probably had it stuck in his head when he was working on Coldplay’s material.

      As far as anyone breaking down the chord structure to the degree that it means anything from a legal standpoint in the world of plagiarism, I’m pretty sure if I redid Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in full chord format instead of power chords, even sustained a few here and there, and changed the lyrics; Black Sabbath, Ozzy and Sharon would be on me like white on rice and I’d stand no chance in a court of law anyway. In the end, it’s all about melody, progression and cadence, and the combined influence of those factors to make a song similar enough to another one whether it’s intentional or not. BTW: I can also play any Led Zep song using “technically” different chords and 99% of the non-musical and tone deaf listeners would not be able to tell the difference.

      Oh, and for those who think this was just a money grab for J.S., you’ll be surprised to know he’s pretty wealthy and would have been just as well off without the settlement. I’m sure it was just a matter of pride and proving he would not be ripped off by a glorified shill of a music industry front like Coldplay and all the others that pose as musicians when all they are are the music industry’s entertainment of the month. When Coldplay has moved onto has-been status (probably already) and spending their monies on real estate investments and such, Satriani will still be making music and I’m sure others will still be taking from him in some way.

      Comment by Betcha can't play none either — 23 August 2013 @ 11:19 am | Reply

      • Calm down there guitar wiz. You are being awfully sensitive, particularly when I NEVER even claimed Mr. Satriani to be a lousy guitarist – far from it in fact!

        I have absolutely no trouble admitting that I’m a three chord guitarist myself. What, I can’t form opinions unless I can play like Satriani? Is that what you are really trying to say?

        I don’t make a living playing music, never have, never wanted to, and do not plan to make a living out of music in the future either. It’s just another pastime pleasure. You must be shocked to know that there are millions of folks like me around the world: folks who just play for the fun of it with what little chops they have. I have other things I want to focus on more. In fact these days I hardly even pick up my guitar. I think that says a lot. But I’ll spell it out for you just in case: I have better things to do with my life than practicing playing guitar for days on end year after year after year.

        I’m sorry but Satriani/Vai/Malsmteen et al. do absolutely nothing for me music-wise. It could be genre thing, or it could be something else. But when ever I want to hear truly exquisite guitar playing (IMO) then Paco de Lucia has me more than covered. I don’t honestly listen to music simply because I think it has technically challenging guitar playing. I tend to listen to music that manages to generate powerful emotions – whether it’s achieved as a result of “shitty” playing or not. I really couldn’t care less how artists/bands pull it off as long as they do.

        Cobain for instance was a lousy guitarist (at least when compared to the likes of Satriani and co) but a brilliant songwriter/lyricist and a frontman who turned his obvious lack of guitar playing chops to something much more accessible and concrete there and then: trying to come up with simple songs while trying his best to make them as catchy, witty and moody as he could possibly muster. Nevermind is still one of the greatest pop rock albums ever made. And a person who can’t appreciate Nevermind either can’t appreciate good music or is simply too elitist/stubborn to admit it.

        A lot of my favorite artists in fact have probably never taken a single guitar or singing lesson in their life. I am not against having a formal training, quite contrary to be honest, but I leave that choice to artists themselves – as I think you ought to do too.

        Nor should we forget the background, everyday realities, that some of these artists were faced with as they grew up and found an outlet in music to (better) express themselves (to others). It’s easiest thing in the world to say people are merely lazy and unwilling to do this or to do that. Mastering any instrument takes years of hard work and solitary confinement. For most budding young musicians who just want to rock out NOW not some day, that route really isn’t a valid option. If you don’t understand this you are much dumber than I thought.

        For example, I’m glad Cliff Burton chose to put his career first instead of getting a college degree. You – and your kind – may and can indeed disagree with Burton’s opt out, but majority of music lovers the world over would likely fail to see just how college education would have served the man better then and there – or in fact made him a happier man. For some of us there are far more important things in life than being able to read score perfectly – or at all – and knowing Phrygian from Lydian while being able to formulate and play most difficult jazz chords on the fretboard.

        I don’t know if it comes as shocking news to you but not all families are alike: affluent, educated and supportive. There are broken families, unhappy marriages, sibling rivalry, poverty, substance abuse, belittling and yes, even abuse (physical or mental or both), and so on and so forth. Some are lucky to even have a guitar to strum to – not to mention a piano. Just saying.

        But like I said I’m only interested in the results. I couldn’t care less if Picasso had years of formal training to be able to do his art or none at all. If anything, I respect those artists more who are clearly lacking in many respects but who still manage to make me enjoy their art over many a “trained dog” who blindly follow their masters, do what is expected of them, and who when given a chance have little to nothing at all to say to begin with.

        Guitar shredding wise I tend to draw the line of personal enjoyment somewhere along Megadeth’s RIP and CTE albums. Obviously your mileage varies and no one’s stopping you from enjoying Mr. Satriani’s work. It’s just not for me. That is all.

        I know it must be hard for you personally to accept that an artist or a band X makes more money than your favorite one. Tough. But no one said life’s fair. However, success/money says little if anything at all about quality because quality is always very much a subjective preference. Financial wise Coldplay is in league of its own when compared to Mr. Satriani. That’s just the way it is, like it or not.

        I stand by my original comments. Take care, man (and keep playing).

        Comment by stupidus — 9 October 2013 @ 6:03 am

  26. [...] om sangens bestanddele og dens tilblivelsesproces, selv om komponisten slap lovligt let uden om en plagieringssag, der blev lukket ned ved et frivilligt forlig. Og man forstod til fulde Barcelona-træneren, Josep Guardiola, som, efter at have brugt melodien [...]

    Pingback by Coldplay - en moderne klassiker? | MIDT I EN BEATTID — 20 January 2012 @ 4:54 am | Reply

  27. I know this is several years and has been settled. But this is the comments from above. Did you ever hear a “one, , five seven progression. first. Now musicans what does that make ? A chord. in a nutshell. and on a guitar it is known as a bar chord that every guitarist has played. Now again the message posted on you tube iv satriani and vi coldplay equals two step up on the music step value. So this leaves one to hear harmony of both levels or what you may call a third.
    When and if are both played back to back your ear hears it as a pleasing sound. Most players harmonize in the thirds for that desired effect.
    So what does this mean. Coldplay took three origins of music. Rythym. tempo from the song and melody of which definetly they had to hear satrianis’ release without a doubt
    Now players test it play a “e chord minor for several measures. Then play a “g major scale on top of it and listen to the effect.
    It is pitiful when a group as coldplay would say they didnt steal Satrianis’ song.

    Comment by ary mcsrl — 6 February 2012 @ 1:09 am | Reply

  28. WHOA, Horsie! Let’s look more closely at this: from Andy ..” and the two different chords are actually quite similar. The VI chord in the Coldplay is the relative major of the iv chord in the Satriani (which is to say if they were in the same key they’d share 2 out of the three notes in the chord). ” WELL, the “six” chord in Coldplay is D flat Maj = Db,F, Ab & C and the ” four minor” in the Satriani is Em = E,G & B. Please explain to me where the commonality between D flat Major and E minor exists!! AND to my knowledge, E minor’s RELATIVE Major is G, SO……. The VI chord in Coldplay is NOT, I repeat NOT the relative major of the iv chord in Satriani – and it isn’t fair to say “IF THEY WERE IN THE SAME KEY” when they are not. If I take any song that is written in a major key and then play it in a minor (change from ionian mode to aeolian where the 3rd, 6th and 7th notes in the scale are flatted) I can tell you right now THEY WILL NOT SOUND THE SAME. PLEASE show me where I am wrong….. if I am. I have listened to both of the songs and the real argument should be concerning the melody, not the underlying chords.

    Comment by carol stuve — 22 May 2012 @ 9:21 pm | Reply

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  34. ……this is sooo sad.. the fleecing of Coldplay AND George Harrison… that is the crime here people.

    Comment by Arwhen Trulove — 25 September 2013 @ 2:23 pm | Reply

  35. Listin to Rubina by Satrini if you think he has no soul

    Comment by Larkin — 25 March 2014 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

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  37. Larkin: Yup, use of delay effect must equate soulful music because it is only the most obvious way to make anything sound more or less ethereal… Got it. I’m sure many, many people appreciate Satriani’s music and that’s just super. It just doesn’t do much for me personally and I’m fine with that too.

    BTW. Did you have anything you wanted to add to this conversation of plagiarism?

    Comment by stupidus — 28 March 2014 @ 3:34 am | Reply

  38. […] though he claimed that it was completely unintentional. The court didn’t buy it. Coldplay was sued in 2008 by Joe Satriani for the Coldplay song “Viva La Vida.” They settled out of court, though people still […]

    Pingback by Why Lecrae Will Win His Lawsuit Against Katy Perry | Rocking Gods House — 9 July 2014 @ 7:13 am | Reply


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