Bittersweet Symphony, copyright controversy

In 1997 an English alternative rock band named “The Verve” released a song named Bittersweet Symphony. The song would eventually reach number 12 on the Billboard 100 list in 1998. The song featured a sample from “The Andrew Oldman Orchestra” of The Last Time by “The Rolling Stones.” This 4-bar sample was used with the permission of both Andrew Loog Oldman and Allen Klein. Andrew Loog Oldman was the original manager of “The Rolling Stones” and the copyright holder of the orchestral version of the song. Allen Klein was also manager of “The Rolling Stones” for a period of time and his label, ABKCO Records, is copyright holder for the studio recording of The Last Time.

After the song was released, “The Verve” was sued for sampling too much of The Last Time by both Oldham and Klein. In the end “The Verve” lost composer credits for the song, copyrights and royalties. When Bittersweet symphony was nominated for a Grammy, the credits were given to Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. The song was featured in a Nike ad, which had been refused when “The Verve” held rights to the song.

This scenario indicates to me that there is something wrong with the way copyrights work in America today. Without a doubt content creators deserve to be compensated for their work, but when they are given too much power, for too much time, copyrights stifle future creativity. In this case, two men who had no part in the production of the original work were able to file suit and take right for a derivative work.

5 Responses to Bittersweet Symphony, copyright controversy

  1. I personally liked “Bittersweet Symphony” a lot when growing up, especially when Coldplay were featured on a live rendition of the song. It is interesting how by merely sampling a four bar progression, The Verve ended up tangled in lawsuits. Nowadays it is hardly unheard to find artists who have not sampled at least some kind of tune or beat progression into their music, something that is especially predominant in the hip-hop community. However, it is interesting how despite granting the permission in the first place, both Oldman and Klein ended up suing The Verve suggesting that perhaps there should be some clear guidelines set forth in terms of the extent that a piece of music can be used. This relates to the topic of fair use as despite being for commercial purposes, the band technically received the consent of the original owners of the intellectual property which as you mentioned, suggests a severe flaw in the system. Music itself stems from others creativity; there will never be a point where we “run out” of different types of music that can be created. Despite the use of sampling, it still shows creative intent by creating a derivative work that is, in some minor or major way, different. To stifle creativity in this manner would only result in an overall decrease in happiness of the music industry as well as the millions who support it.

  2. I completely agree with vell199. Having personally enjoyed “Bittersweet Symphony” growing up I think it is personally wrong to deny the creators awards, royalties and other rights to their creation over a 4-bar sample. I think copyright laws should be altered so they are more lenient in situations like this. I feel this would expand the music industry and result in better music for the public and could only result in an overall good outcome. Less strict copyright laws would create competition and allow artists to use others’ ideas; according to utilitarianism this would provide the greatest overall benefit to everyone and would be just and ethically right. Implementing some form of fair use policy could also have the same benefits; it would benefit the listeners, create competition among artist, and overall benefit the music industry.

  3. I agree with both schick and vell as well. Having liked “Bittersweet Symphony” since it was featured in Cruel Intentions I’ve always thought that the lawsuit was a bit unfair. I personally believe that Klein & Co. didn’t expect the song to be a hit, so they authorized the use. They claim that The Verve sampled more than they initially agreed on, but I find that hard to believe. I agree with “schick” that copyright laws should be altered, but I also feel copyright holders should be more clear in what can be used and how much of it can be used. The issues with copyright are shown clearly in this situation. US copyright laws say that all work based off of or derived from another copyright work is the exclusive property of the original publisher. The thing with that is all work is derivative in some way. Especially in music, all “creative” work consists of modifying already existent works. It seems that licensing holders are now becoming incredibly overzealous, and are aiming to stifle creativity. It’s sad that copyright laws exist in this way, because a band like The Verve who had a promising career ahead of them, are now pretty much defunct. At the same time, I am understanding of copyright laws and why they are in place. Especially since I consider myself a part-time musician/artist I would hope that my music is covered and not open to being taken advantage of. I just think there should be more leeway and more specification to how works can be used.

  4. I like the topic. i feel that music copyright is a very tricky thing nowadays. i think of Metallica most when i think of legality and music. but, their situation seems to be a little bit different than the one described here. the legal issues are a little tricky in the music business, and i’m sure not all of us are aware of all the red tape musicians have to go through to just use a cut of another musicians work. it seems in this case that The Verve thought they had done everything right in getting permission to use the cut, but they were apparently duped. i’m curious how often this happens in the music business. especially when you look at performers like kanye west that seems to use a portion or a rhythm of someone else’s work in nearly everyone of his songs. Or when DJs use songs and produce “mashups.” i wonder how hard it is for these performers to get the permission to use others songs and how much performers would have to pay, royalties, to use the songs of others.

    In this case i feel that the use of the part of the song was not malicious. it seems there was a misunderstanding and if anything the use of the originally work was more or less flattering to the original creators.

  5. The biggest thing for me in this entire situation is the fact that the Stones ripped off The Staple Singer‘s rendition of “This May be the Last Time,” made an unmemorable recording, “The Last Time,” profited off of that and then got paid bank 30 years later by grabbing the Verve’s song too. They didn’t even write the orchestration that was sampled.

    As a bunch of old guys who were already millionaires, they saw an opportunity to make even more money and took it. They took the song and sold it to whoever they could, without any consideration its integrity. It’s disgusting to consider the wealth they must have accumulated off of the Verve’s song.

    They didn’t write the lyrics or the structure of the song. They didn’t record it either. They didn’t have the vision to brush off a dusty sample and make something new out of it. They just hampered the growth of blossoming artists who once looked to the Stones as inspiration.

    A song like that is enough to make a man’s entire life; to be able to support one’s self off of the royalties. But the Stones, who were already well beyond comfortable in their success, crushed a band, its studio, and record company. It’s shameful.