In the 1980’s, the Ray Parker Jr. song “Ghostbusters” became a smash hit, fueled by the hit movie. I heard from a friend who was a radio DJ that Huey Lewis was told that Parker’s song was a direct rip off of his track, “I Want A New Drug.” I immediately responded by saying that I bet Huey would say that it’s no big deal, it’s rock n roll, and let it go at that. The DJ told me that was exactly what Huey said, at least at first. That was until he found out that Ray Parker Jr. deliberately plagiarized Lewis’ song on purpose! At that point, Lewis decided to sue Parker for copyright infringement. Ultimately, the case ended up being settled out of court, with Ray paying Huey a then undisclosed sum.
After listening to the brand new Lady Ga Ga track, “Born This Way,” (written by Ga Ga and Jeppe Laursen), I’m debating a similar question: Did she blatantly rip off the Madonna hit “Express Yourself,” (written by Madonna and Stephen Bray) on purpose, or was it just inadvertent theft through unoriginal songwriting? Could it perhaps be intended as a deliberate homage? As I’ve composed hundreds of works, it’s quite obvious that “Born This Way” is clearly plagiaristic of “Express Yourself.”
It poses the tricky question of whether Madonna would sue. It’s clear to me that she’d easily win the case, but that could be a public relations nightmare for Madonna, making her look very over the hill and unhip. Yet from a legal point of view, if Madonna lets Ga Ga get away with this, it weakens her ability to defend herself against others who would infringe her intellectual property.
Typically, the legal issue with songwriting plagiarism has a lot to do with the actual melodies being too similar between two different songs. On “Born This Way,” the melody is practically identical to “Express Yourself,” but it doesn’t stop there: the chord structure is virtually the same, as is the tempo and the overall feel of the track. I bet those who edit mash-ups could marry the Madonna and Ga Ga track together as one in their sleep.
Unless it’s a deliberate homage, I can’t believe that someone, whether her army of writing partners, producers, record executives, managers, handlers, lawyers, or even a friend, didn’t point out to Lady Ga Ga just how obvious the rip off is. Maybe nobody said anything to her because she’s now surrounded only by yes people. Someone with ANY musical perception would have had to have heard the shockingly blatant similarity.
It’s such a shame that this is the best an artist of Lady Ga Ga’s celebrity and stature can come up with, especially when her last major hit, “Bad Romance,” was a terrific single, and that the entire world was waiting to hear “Born This Way!”
Check out the very unoriginal track here, judge for yourself and leave a comment here on my blog!