Pace Magazine

Finding a Rhythm Through Copyright Law

Lance Pauker
July 12, 2023
Lubin student Sadie Lorence presenting her research poster

“I had a little speaker playing [The Verve’s] “Bitter Sweet Symphony”–and I would say ‘hey, do you recognize this song? The band didn’t see a cent for 20 years because of five notes that they used from a version of a Rolling Stones song.’”

Although the intricacies of copyright law in the music industry may sound like an esoteric avenue of research for an undergraduate, Lubin Arts and Entertainment Management student Sadie Lorence ’23 had long been up for the challenge. In fact, it was an intersection of interests she’s had since as long as she can remember.

“My father’s a musician,” says Sadie. “Growing up, he was always pointing out the similarities between popular songs on the radio. That would always blow my mind as a kid, and I wanted to delve into that.”

I had a little speaker playing [The Verve’s] “Bitter Sweet Symphony”–and I would say ‘hey, do you recognize this song? The band didn’t see a cent for 20 years because of five notes that they used from a version of a Rolling Stones song.’

Her father’s musical influence was combined with an uncanny interest in the legal profession from an early age. Not many people can say they were voted “Most Likely to Become a Lawyer” by their third grade class, but it’s an honor Sadie remains proud of.

Thus, during her senior year, Sadie carried on the Pace tradition of undergraduates conducting unique and impactful research. Her project, It's a bitter sweet symphony: Licensing complexities and copyright law in the music industry explored why The Verve’s 90’s brit-pop hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony” was indeed bittersweet–how it was mired in copyright complication, which Sadie analyzed to explore the tension between ownership and accessibility under US copyright law, and ways in which interpretations of the US Copyright Act have significantly impacted the music industry.

Although this 1997 hit was the band’s biggest song by far and has racked up millions of dollars worth of royalties, Verve songwriter Richard Ashcroft was not granted songwriting credits, nor did the band receive any royalties on the song, until 2019. This was because Verve based the instrumentals of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” on a sample of a 1965 Rolling Stones song, “The Last Time,” by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, which the Rolling Stones had obtained the right to use from copyright holder Decca Records. However, a lawsuit and contention from Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein meant that The Verve had to relinquish all royalties for the song, and the songwriting credits were subsequently given to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It wasn’t until Klein’s death in 2019 that the rights and future royalties were ceded to The Verve’s Ashcroft.

Yet, as Sadie explains, the onion can be peeled back even further. The Rolling Stones song “The Last Time,” features the chorus of a song “This May Be The Last Time,” from the gospel group The Staples Singers–creating an argument that the Rolling Stones song itself can be disputed in regards to its licensing. Additionally, the five notes that were so heavily contested in “Bitter Sweet Symphony” were credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards–but not the composer in the Andrew Oldham Orchestra, who is the one who arguably deserves the credit.

Listen While You Read:
Hit play to listen to our Spotify playlist of songs examined by Sadie through her research.

Suffice to say, the song’s history is…complicated.

“Researching this project was tough,” notes Sadie, after explaining the many intricacies of this specific case, and the aftershocks it created. “Because music is so abstract and subjective, everyone has their own opinions or thoughts. You can play two songs next to each other, one person thinks they’re entirely different, one doesn’t. Is there a perfect solution? I’m not sure, but there has to be a better one.”

To hone in on the legal complexities of this case, Sadie valued the expertise of her mentor, Lubin Professor of Business Law and Ivan Fox Scholar Jessica Magaldi, JD. Sadie had taken some of Magaldi’s classes early on in her undergraduate career–as Sadie jokes, her class was the only class she enjoyed attending on Zoom during the height of the pandemic–and knew that having her as a resource would greatly enhance the quality of her work.

“She is someone I’ve looked up to for a long time,” said Sadie “I was even nervous getting the courage to ask her to be my advisor. It was a really wonderful time working with her, actually presenting, seeing my work on a big poster board.”

Magaldi, having worked with many students over the course of her career, was particularly impressed with Sadie’s drive and enthusiasm to tackle such a complex topic.

"Sadie’s research fits into a long history of the law’s attempts to acknowledge and encourage the creativity of artists and to balance the rights of an original artist to be rewarded and acknowledged for their artistic creation with the rights of a artist who comes after who is inspired by that original work to make an original work of their own," noted Magaldi. "The law is always trying to navigate where the line is between inspiration and infringement.

As technology advances and the lines between original works continue to blur, licensing issues in sampling will likely even become more pronounced, something Sadie hopes to further explore and follow in the future.

“So many great musical works have come out of sampling. What I learned is there should be protection both ways–both for the artist, who is licensing their work out there, and also for the recipient of the license, giving the green light, the ok, I feel like there should be more of an industry standard process. There are more provisions to go.”

As for Sadie’s future plans? Let’s just say Sadie’s third grade classmates and her father would hardly be surprised. The project has confirmed her desire to make an impact in entertainment law, where she has definitely found her groove.

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