Did He Steal My Song? A Songwriting Question From the MailBag

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Every now and then I get this question from a songwriter. Sometimes, the resulting conversation is comical. Other times, it takes on a more serious note.

On one occasion, someone came to me and said “Artist X stole my song”. I said “Oh no, that’s horrible! Did you pitch it to him?” “No”, they replied. “How do you think he heard your song?”, I asked. “I don’t know” was the answer. So, I asked “Have you ever played your song for anyone?” “No”, they responded. I laughed and explained that you can’t steal a song you’ve never heard.

The writer just assumed that, since the artist cut a song with the same title as theirs, that it must have been stolen somehow, even though he had never played it in a setting where the artist (Or the writers of that song) might have heard it.

On another occasion, someone approached me and said “I think someone in the Songtown forum stole my song. I posted one and then I saw that someone else had posted one that was very similar and with the same title.” I looked into it for him and I discovered that the OTHER writer had posted her song FIRST. So, I went back to the person who approached me and  “I’m concerned that YOU stole her song!” “What? There’s no way I would do that!” he replied. I then cautioned against accusing others when it’s possible that YOUR song was not the first one written with that idea.

I have had numerous instances in my career where an artist cut a song with the same title as mine. Sometimes, I have even pitched my song to that artist and it made me wonder if he or she liked my idea and just re-wrote it. But, rather than make accusations that might end up embarrassing ME in the end, I just let it go. Why?

We are all getting ideas from the same place. I wrote a song that I loved that had the hook line something to the effect “How can you ever be old and wise if you’ve never been young and crazy”. About the time we started pitching it, Frankie Ballard came out with a song with the exact same hook. Odds are, his song was written first. The writers of that one probably saw the same quote I saw on the internet and thought, “That would be a great song title.” And it was. The fact is, we are all looking for song ideas in the same places, so MANY of us are going to write the same titles.

Music centers like Nashville, LA and New York are small tight-knit communities. If you start going around accusing people of stealing your ideas you risk discovering that YOU were the one that wrote the idea last. You also risk getting the reputation as that crackpot who is just looking to sue someone and make a quick buck. There’s nothing that will get you pushed OUT of the business quicker than being that person.

All of the writers I know are people of integrity. No one I know is looking to steal ideas. So, I encourage everyone to do as I do. Try to write a song so good that no one could write that idea better. Then, work that song with everyone you’ve got so that you will be the first one to the party with that idea. If you are doing those two things, you don’t have time to steal anyone’s idea. And that’s why the pro writers don’t have time to steal yours. Write On!

~MD

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Marty Dodson is a multi #1 songwriter and co-founder of SongTown.com

5 thoughts on “Did He Steal My Song? A Songwriting Question From the MailBag

  1. Seems to me Brenda has an excellent case for a plagiarism lawsuit. The standard used to be a) 7 identical consecutive notes and b) proof of access. Sounds like Brenda has both.

  2. I looked up a song the other day by Shelby Lynne called “I Can’t Imagine”. I didn’t count them but just at a glance there were easily half a dozen songs with the same title. But judging by the lyrics being completely different and the artists being in widely different genres, it was obvious the only thing in common was the title. No ripoff there, just coincidence. But what Brenda talked about above is a completely different situation. An interesting gray-area case is Paul McCartney’s Waterfalls being, uh… appropriated (?) by TLC – which seemed like they took his idea and changed just enough to get away with it. It’s obvious they (or whoever the writers were) took his concepts and just rewrote the specific words. Paul’s comments about it in interviews are pretty cheeky and funny!

  3. What this really should be is encouraging. You are writing the kind of songs and ideas that are getting cut. I’ve had this happen once or twice. There was no way it was it was stolen. But I got encouragement because I knew I had never heard it before either. And if by some miracle it was lifted somehow, what a compliment. Thanks Marty.

  4. This is not always the case. Especially a new writer trying to get a break. You pitch a song to someone connected to a established artist, then a year later you hear your song? A few differences were female version to a male version, melody the same, some word changes. My song was copyrighted several years before this artist come out with the song. So it does happen

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