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Plagiarism Charges Temper Coldplay's Triumph

Of the Oakland Press

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Coldplay’s Chris Martin sings about ruling the world on the British group’s Grammy Award-winning 2008 hit “Viva la Vida.”

Martin and his mates have certainly done that during the past year — but not without ruffling a few feathers in the process.

“Viva la Vida” — the first single from Coldplay’s year-old fourth album “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends” — has topped the charts in both the U.S. and U.K., has been certified triple-platinum, was named Song of the Year at the Grammys and Best Selling British Song at the Ivor Novello Awards. It’s also the subject of two separate charges of plagiarism. That, in turn, has put a bit of tarnish on a gleaming year during which the “Vida la Vida” album sold more than 8 million copies worldwide and also took home the Grammy for Best Rock Album.

The first allegation came from the American rock band Creaky Boards, who claimed Coldplay lifted some of the melody in “Viva la Vida” from its ironically titled tune “The Songs I Didn’t Write” after hearing Creaky Boards play it in October 2007. Coldplay denied it, and a band spokesman maintained that Martin was recording in London at that time. Creaky Boards later retracted its comments.

A more serious charge has come from American rock guitarist Joe Satriani. He filed a copyright infringement suit against Coldplay during December in a U.S. federal court in Los Angeles, claiming that “Vida la Vida” contains “substantial, original portions of his 2004 instrumental ‘If I Could Fly.’ ” Satriani is seeking a jury trial and damages that include “any and all profits” attributable to the alleged plagiarism.

In a statement, Coldplay maintained: “If there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him.” In its legal response to Satriani’s suit, Coldplay argued that Satriani’s song “lacks originality” — or at least enough to warrant damages. Satriani, who’s now playing in the all-star band Chickenfoot with Sammy Hagar, Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, is letting the suit run its course.

“It’s one of those things that is annoying to talk about, because I can’t talk about it” due to the ongoing suit, Satriani says. “But I can tell you that the legal system is going through its paces, the protocols are all being met, and it’s making its way between various law offices and the courts, and it’s just one of those things. I’m pretty confident that there will be an equitable solution reached at some point.”

Last month, Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, entered the fray, telling interviewers that “Viva la Vida” draws from his 1973 release “Foreigner Suite.” Islam has not taken legal action — yet. He’s watching the Satriani suit to determine what he wants to do.

All of this weighs heavy on Coldplay, not surprisingly. Drummer Will Champion told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot that “it’s tough when people accuse you of stealing something when you know that you didn’t ... There are elements of our music that I’ve heard in other people’s music but a very difficult thing to define. There are only eight notes in an octave and no one owns them. There are probably about 12,000 songs that feature the exact same chord progression.

“I think (plagiarism) lies on an intent to steal, which we certainly have never done and never would. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way people are. That’s that. We’re confident we haven’t done anything wrong.”

The charges haven’t seemed to hurt the band or “Viva la Vida,” which is still a fixture on playlists at several radio formats.

“I think people understand that is a wildly talented band,” says Keith Cunningham, a radio consultant with Southfieldbased Jacobs Media. “I don’t think those specific allegations have really made much impact at all, especially as it relates to their musical credibility. I don’t think they’ve been labeled as plagiarists.”

In a new interview done for Coldplay’s official Web site, meanwhile, Martin says the plagiarism allegations are only fueling the band to move forward.

“Although it was initially a bit depressing, now it’s become really inspiring,” explains Martin, who’s married to actress Gwyneth Paltrow, with whom he has two children. “You think, ‘Right, if everyone’s trying to take away our best song, then we’d better write 25 better ones.’

“And so just at the point where I was thinking about getting fat and becoming complacent, I’ve been finding more inspiration. Now we’ve got more to prove than ever before.”

Coldplay is in the midst of doing just that. It released an EP, “Prospekt’s March,” in November and a free live album, “LeftRightLeftRightLeft,” to coincide with its current U.S. tour (downloadable at www.coldplay.com). The group also has been recording more material with “Viva la Vida” producer Brian Eno and hopes to release another album before the end of the year. Martin noted that “we’ve been in the studio ... doing music most days.”

One report from the sessions indicated Eno kicked the frontman out of the studio at one point to allow the instrumentalists (Champion, guitarist Jonny Buckland and bassist Guy Berryman) to create new music to inspire him. Champion, who brought a new drum machine into the studio, is also reportedly steering the group in a more electronic-flavored, dance direction.

Martin, however, is happy to have the group touring again.

“It’s certainly rewarding to be back out again,” he says on the Web site. “Our audience is just ... incredible at the moment. I saw Pearl Jam about a year ago and Bruce (Springsteen) a few weeks ago, and I think our audience is as good as theirs now, in terms of how much they make us feel good.”

Coldplay, Pete Yorn and Howling Bells perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday (June 2) at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $87 and $105 pavilion, $42.50 lawn. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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