In recent months the music industry has seen high profile intellectual property cases gain significant media attention, with a leading rock band and a guitar manufacturer involved in separate disputes.
The guitar manufacturer is Fender, which has recently failed in its appeal to register the shapes of three of its guitars as trade marks.
The US Patent and Trade Mark Office held that that the shapes of the Stratocaster, Telecaster and Precision Bass guitars had been widely used by other guitar manufacturers for so long that Fender could no longer claim to hold rights in the shapes.
The case was raised by seventeen guitar manufacturers, represented by lawyer and bassist Ron Bienstock, who is reported to have come across Fender's trade mark application in 2003 whilst completing due diligence for a client.
In a decision of 75 pages, with over twenty thousand pages of evidence, it was held that Fender had failed to acquire distinctiveness in the shapes through their use in the guitars.
Also in the US, internationally ubiquitous indie/pop band Coldplay have filed their response to a copyright infringement action raised by "guitar legend", Joe Satriani.
The action, filed in December 2008, claims that the Coldplay track "Viva La Vida", from the album of the same name, copies "substantial, original portions" from Satriani's instrumental track, "If I Could Fly" of 2004.
Coldplay's response sets out that "If I Could Fly" "lacks originality" and should not be subject to copyright protection. The response outlines that in any event similarities between Satriani's and Coldplay's works are insufficient to warrant damages.
Satriani is seeking damages and "any and all profits" related to the alleged copying of a song he is reported as having taken ten years to complete. Such profits are likely to be significant – "Viva La Vida" was one of the biggest selling albums of 2008. The parties are awaiting a trial date, and we shall provide updates as this dispute progresses.
The dispute follows claims by relatively unknown New York outfit Creaky Boards, who claimed Viva La Vida copies parts of their song, ironically titled "The Songs I Didn't Write".
Both Creaky Boards and Satriani would be likely to encounter difficulties in proving that their songs were copied rather than being coincidentally similar, as lead singer Chris Martin has stated.
The legal issues in these cases are not particularly novel. However these disputes provide a topical reminder of the ongoing efforts to protect and exploit intellectual property in the music industry, which in the digital age, at least in terms of established artists and manufacturers, can prove profitable.