The program notes for a recent concert of Brahms Symphonies No. 1 & 3 contained an admission by Brahms that the “big string section” in the finale of his first symphony was similar to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Evidently, when Brahms was confronted about the resemblance, he replied, “Any ass can see that.” I’m not sure how this quote has managed to survive almost 200 years, but it’s a fascinating example of an admission to copying another artist’s work. [Today this would be an example of admitting to copyright infringement by copying another artist’s work and/or creating a derivative work based on another artist’s work]. While the Brahms’ quote may seem comical, it is not so uncommon today for similar admissions to be made to the media or on social media regarding plagiarism or copyright infringement. Often this type of admission is made off-the-cuff by an artist who has copied another artist’s work without any thought being given to a possible copyright infringement claim. Yet, when the copyright infringement claim surfaces it may be difficult to overcome because of the prior admission. Admissions made off-the-cuff, even in a slightly comical tone or on social media can have detrimental repercussions.
BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.
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See also: U.S. Copyright Office Circular 1 on Copyright Basics at http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf; NY Times, What’s Wrong With the ‘Blurred Lines’ Copyright Ruling at www.nytimes.com; Carnegie Hall calendar and announcement of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra playing Brahms Symphony No. 1 at www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2015/2/27/0800/PM/Vienna-Philharmonic-Orchestra; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.