A question regarding similar sounding music and copyright.

Diretooth

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First off, I do not know where the best place to put this topic would be, so I apologize in advance to any moderators who have to move the topic for me. I appreciate what you do for the site and typically try not to make your job harder than it typically is.


Second, my question is a bit of a multifaceted one, not covering just one topic, but kind of branching out in multiple questions, and it sprang to mind from several different instances rather than just one moment. I'll be explaining a bit of how these questions came to mind first, then I'll ask the actual questions.


So, the other day, I was helping a friend who had a copy of RM 2k3, they'd recently gotten it and wanted help from me, the local RM guru (read, messes around with Ace and MV) to help with a game he was planning on making for commercialization. One of the tracks in 2k3's RTP, I noted, sounds very similar to Final Fantasy's Prelude theme, which I thought was neat . (I believe it was 'mystery2', but don't quote me on that.) They'd set that particular one as the main title theme, because their game is an homage to Final Fantasy. Earlier today, I was messing around with LMMS, learning the program and trying to learn how to make music. My friend's usage of 'mystery2' as the title theme inspired me to replicate the Prelude theme from Final Fantasy to get a feel for composing by ear. I made a fairly good rendition. This caused me to question what would happen if I were to use it in a commercial game, then fridge logic set in where I realized the implications of such reaching back to my friend.


As such, here are my questions: First, can my friend actually use 'mystery2' commercially without repercussion? Second, at which point does imitation (My attempt at making something similar, but not the same) cause the primary holder of a intellectual property (In this case, Square Enix with the Prelude theme) to tell me not to use something I made in, maybe, five minutes by ear because it's too similar? Where is the line drawn? I'm probably not asking all of the right questions, I either can't find the right phrasing, or I had it, but forgot.


(And for those who would ask, the rendition I made is just the classic up and down sound without any accompaniment, just a fade-in/fade-out gimmick with the instrumentation. I'm not particularly dead set on using it commercially, and I already know that using resources ripped directly from commercially released games is a big no-no, I actually explained that, in detail, to my friend when they wanted Samus as the main character. My main concern is in where similarity gets you into trouble. And to make sure my friend won't get in trouble for using RTP stuff because, again, the mystery2 track sounds a lot like FF's prelude.)
 

Sharm

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Unfortunately this particular line is EXTREMELY fuzzy.  You can make music that sounds almost identical to another piece of music and be completely fine or get sued into the ground because you had a slightly similar riff by accident.  This sort of thing is decided in courts if there's any dispute and the judges are the ones who decide where the line is on a case by case basis.  General rule of thumb is that if you could make the song without referencing the original, you're fine.  So if you don't borrow bits and just keep to sounding vaguely like it you should be okay.  It's not an uncommon practice to take a two layered approach where the musician wants something with the same feeling as something else so they take a part of the original song like the lyrics or baseline and write a new song to go with those, then get rid of the original part and replace that too.


My personal dislike for taking too much inspiration from an existing thing is that if you make it too obvious you're going to sound like a pale imitation no matter what.  I personally think if you're going to make something inspired by something else, make it more general, use more references, and let your music be able to stand on it's own as well as call back to what inspired you.
 

LaFlibuste

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As Sharm said, it's a very large, very gray area. I'm not a copyright lawyer and these laws can vary from country to country, but what I can tell you from the short class I had back in University is that what CAN be copyrighted in music is the melody and the lyrics. Possibly accompaniment melodic lines could count as melody, gray area. But chord progressions or voicings cannot be copyrighted.


It's still very subjective but hopefully this helps :)
 

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