Is TikTok The New Court Of Law?

By Teresa Segalman

Olivia Rodrigo’s single “Good 4 U” was a big hit this summer among Gen-Z, boasting record-breaking streaming numbers. Three months following its release, singer Hayley Williams and ex-guitarist Josh Farro of the rock band Paramore received writing credits. What happened?

Unlike many music copyright cases, this one did not start with Paramore claiming copyright infringement, followed by years of litigation and forensic musicologist reports playing a key role. Instead, it was the fans who noted similarities in the melody and energy of “Good 4 U” and Paramore’s 2007 teen punk anthem “Misery Business,” inspiring mashups and commentary on Tik Tok and YouTube with millions of views.

Rodrigo also credited Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff on the fourth track of the album, “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back,” and Courtney Love accused her of copying her band Hole’s 1994 cover.

When Rodrigo was accused on social media of copying Elvis Costello’s guitar riff from his 1978 hit “Pump it Up” for her opening track “Brutal,” Costello’s response was more laid-back. He defended Rodrigo by writing, “It’s how rock&roll works… you take the broken pieces of another thrill and make a brand new toy. That’s what I did.” He included hashtags referencing Chuck Berry’s song “Too Much Monkey Business” (1956) that inspired Dylan’s classic “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (1965), which in turn influenced “Pump It Up.” [1]
This isn’t the first time that writing credit has been offered as an olive branch out of court to settle a music copyright dispute. Giving writers retroactive credit on songs has become a frugal and mutually agreeable way to avoid costly litigation. Ed Sheeran shared the royalties of his 2017 best-selling song “Shape of You” with girl-band TLC for borrowing from their hit “No Scrubs.” [1] This resolved their dispute quickly, saving both sides money and ending negative press to Sheeran, but also drawing an inference that copying did in fact take place.

What’s paramount in this case is that Paramore’s publishers Warner Chappell Music saw what was happening on TikTok and used the overwhelming common-sense judgment of millions of fans to bring about a quick resolution that would otherwise have dragged on for years and cost Paramore many thousands of dollars in legal fees. Common sense may be prevailing when it comes to music copyright infringement cases.