And Finally Artist News Beef Of The Week

CMU Beef Of The Week #220: Pablito Ruiz v Tame Impala

By | Published on Friday 22 August 2014

Tame Impala

It is a fact that if lawsuits in which songwriters claim to have been ripped off by other more successful songwriters stopped tomorrow, revenues of the entertainment law community would drop by 32% overnight.

Well, not so much a fact as a number I just plucked out of the air. But the point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot more of these lawsuits than just the ones you read about in CMU. Often the argument takes the form of, ‘I gave a demo of my awesome music to [insert famous artist name] and then they totally ripped me off’. Because most unsigned artists assume that their demos actually get listened to and absorbed by the people they hand them out to.

Sometimes these disputes take multi-level, super confusing forms, like this week’s ruling against Shakira, in which she is accused of recording a song that borrowed from another by a guy who had ripped off someone else in the first place. That happens less often. Mostly it’s the first one.

The business of proving that someone has ripped someone else off in the songwriting domain is a difficult one though. You have to prove two songs are sufficiently alike to justify the words ‘copyright infringement’. Then you have to decide if the similarities are coincidence, accidental or deliberate. And before all that, one artist has to notice the similarity between one of their songs and someone else’s. And how that happens can be a strange thing in itself.

This week, Tame Impala found this out, as they now face possible legal action from Argentine songwriter Pablo Ruiz as the result of a joke.

Earlier this month, Chilean music website Rata published an article entitled, ‘Estudios revelan que Tame Impala le copió a Pablito Ruiz’ – or, in English, ‘Studies show that Tame Impala copied Pablito Ruiz’.

The “studies” cited by the website seem largely (entirely) to be a YouTube video put together by Rata comparing portions of Tame Impala’s 2012 song ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ and Ruiz’s 1989 hit ‘Océano’. You could get into a debate about how likely it would be that Tame Impala would have heard this song, but before that, you should probably note that the Rata video seems like a joke. I laughed, anyway.

You know how it is, you notice something you think is funny, you decide to share it amongst what you imagine is an audience who understand the tone and style of your website, and then thanks to sarcasm not always coming across when taken out of context online, people start taking you seriously. And sarcasm generally stands up less well when it’s first filtered through Google Translate.

So it was that this week Rata published a new article, cataloguing how something they thought was nothing more than a “funny observation” went viral – or “viralizó”, which is now my new favourite word. They catalogued (and later updated the article to catalogue some more) the many sites around the world that had picked up on the story, including Pitchfork.

“This is a joke, right?” said Tame Impala frontman Kevin Parker when asked for a comment by Rolling Stone.

“It was a joke”, confirmed Rata’s editors Raúl Álvarez and Patricio Pérez. They added: “We were at a party and had that idea. Curiously, it was viralized pretty fast. We never thought we’d had this impact, and we’re very surprised about it”.

Wait, “viralized” is my new favourite word. No, “viralizó”. Oh, I can’t choose.

Anyway, that can wait, because there is still a twist in this tale, as you might have guessed (or maybe even remembered from when I mentioned it earlier). Because it wasn’t just the websites of the world that got wind of this story, it was Pablito Ruiz too. And Pablito Ruiz is not laughing.

Speaking to Radio ESPN 197.9FM in Argentina, he said: “Obviously there is plagiarism. Whether they have done it on purpose or not, there are seven bars that are equal to my song”.

“Equal” is a debatable term. And we can debate it now if you like, but how about we just leave it up to the courts? Because Ruiz says he’s now planning to consult his lawyers over his next course of action.

Hopefully his lawyers will point out that the similarities between the two songs are purely humorous. But you never know with lawyers. Pointing out obvious humour doesn’t buy you a big car, does it? Not unless you’re Michael McIntyre. Who does actually look quite like a lawyer, now I think about it.

But how do Álvarez and Pérez from Rata feel about the trouble they’ve stirred up?

“Of course we think it’s funny”, they chuckled to Rolling Stone. “But we hope there are no charges against Tame Impala. We actually like them a lot”.