MARCH 14, 2011 9:53AM

J-Lo’s "On the Floor": Plagiarizing a plagiarized song?

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Note (April 7): Open Salon has been having significant problems recently, which may make this webpage difficult to be accessed. This is unfortunately beyond my control. I hope these will be resolved soon.

After spending the day reviewing research reports and papers, my head was about to explode so I picked up the latest copy of Entertainment Weekly to decompress a bit before wading back in to the fray of technical equations. In the music section, one of the writers thought that the latest music video by Jennifer Lopez was reasonably cool. According to the review, the new song (called "On the Floor", which isn't nearly as dirty as one might hope) has rejuvenated her career as a singer a bit, which is nice because she'd already been forced to look for a new day job as a judge on American Idol.
 
Normally, the music I listen to is a little more, shall we say, brutal, to put it mildly. (I'm the kind of university researcher your mother warned you about.) But hey, I was at my computer anyway, so I surfed on over to YouTube to find the video and hear what the song was like.

The song was okay (if she ever does a cover of Behemoth I might be more enthusiastic), but I was surprised to find, right at the 25-sec mark, synthesizer notes that sounded bizarrely familiar. I even started the song again, just to make sure it wasn't an audio hallucination. Nope, I definitely knew that tune.

Here's the video:

Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor"

That kind of old-world background tune is very similar to the now-infamous refrain used in Edward Maya's song, "Stereo Love". I wasn't the only one who thought so, either. One music reviewer wrote: "It sounds like producer RedOne has been listening to Edward Maya's hit single "Stereo Love", and that is not a bad thing. It has helped add in just enough of a touch of the exotic to keep this breezy record interesting."

What's more interesting in my humble opinion is that the reviewer did not call out RedOne for apparently 'borrowing' Maya's well-known tune.

Here's the video by Edward Maya (the tune starts at 22 seconds, but can be clearly heard at the 52-sec mark):


Edward Maya's "Stereo Love" featuring Vika Jigulina

Well, that might be a bad thing if it turns out that RedOne was listening so closely he copied the tune, but that will have to be up to the Romanian Copyright Office to decide.

Romanian Copyright Office, you ask? Yes, the story is about to get that much more interesting.

You see, Edward Maya, who wrote the song with the background tune that J-Lo might have plagiarized, actually did plagiarize that very same background tune in the first place, for his song "Stereo Love". Here's what happened:

Soon after "Stereo Love" was released in the fall of 2009, Azerbaijani composer Eldar Mansurov came forward and contacted the Romanian Copyright Office (Romania is Maya's country of origin) to file a copyright infringement claim. According to Mansurov, the refrain of "Stereo Love" was a copy of a song he composed in 1989 titled "Bayatilar." At the time, Maya claimed that he tried locating the original composer of the song, which he heard over the internet. He (probably a little too quickly, in retrospect) gave up the search when he couldn't find the rightful owner, and went ahead and used the music (crediting the author as Anonymous). In the end, he had no choice but give a full co-writer's credit to Mansurov. Score one for the accordion player from Azerbaijan.

So, to reiterate what might be going on here:

---In 2009, Romanian Edward Maya writes "Stereo Love" with a nifty refrain plagiarized from Azerbaijani composer Eldar Mansurov.

---In 2011, American Jennifer Lopez releases "On the Floor", with a nifty refrain that sounds suspiciously like the one from "Stereo Love".

---Shortly thereafter in 2011, Canadian Kanuk releases a Blog speculating on the possibility that the same tune has been plagiarized twice. International intrigue ensues.

Just to add insult to possible liability, according to some critics, Jennifer Lopez's "One the Floor" apparently plagiarizes "Party O'Clock" by Latin singer Kat Deluna. Interestingly enough, "Party O'Clock" was also produced by RedOne, the same person who produced on J-Lo's "On the Floor."

And while we're talking about plagiarism, Ultra Records, who actually owns the rights to "Stereo Love," decided to re-release the same song using Canadian singer Mia Martina (without Edward Maya's involvement; he's not even in Martina's video, which is filmed in and around Toronto). Ultra Records plagiarized from themselves!

Here's Mia Martina's version:

Edward Maya's "Stereo Love" featuring Mia Martina

I'm sure that Eldar Mansurov is a very happy man, with a major hit (the same song with two distinct female artists). But he should probably contact the U.S. Copyright Office. He might be even happier.

Additional Information:

For readers who are interested in finding the differences between sampling, being influenced by a song and plagiarism in music are referred to the following websites:

University Publishing - Music and Copyright

The Composer’s Dilemma: Musical Influence Versus Plagiarism

UCLA Law Copyright Infringement Project

The Plagiarism Chronicles

It should be pointed out that strict rules apply for sampling music, including asking and getting the permission to use a song (i.e, cover) or a portion of it and usually involves taking excerpts directly from the music that is sampled (and not copying the melody). The sampled song  is also typically documented in the writing credits.

A large thank you to my wife, Taste is Sweet, for her suggestions and input.

Update (Nov. 21, 2011)

J-Lo performed On the Floor at the 2011 American Music Awards on Sunday, Nov. 20th. Interestingly, the famous background tune is no longer part of the song (On The Floor "without the accordeon sample" starts at the 3:00 mark):

Weird isn't?

Update (May 30th, 2014):

Given the recent lawsuit filed by the estate of the late Spirit's guitarist Randy California that claims that Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was plagiarized (from the song “Taurus”), two copyright lawyers interviewed on CNN explained that for plagiarism to occur, the plagiarized music does not need to be copied note-for-note. If the song or excerpt is close enough that normal people believe that they are hearing the same songs (or excerpts), this is good enough to claim copyright infringement. For example, they played the beginning of Taurus to 20 people on the streets of New York and 18 of them thought it was the opening of Stairway to Heaven

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Comments

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Unfortunately, I'll be away most of the day, as I have to leave for the airport to pick up some famility members. I'll respond to comments when I get back. Nice day to all!
Entertainment Weekly? I have to go the doctor's office to read that! Oh, I forget. You have the college library.

As to international copyright protection, good luck to whomever.

So let's get to the music...Quick, four on the floor, warm synth wash, autotune, cue the talent. Wait. Where's the talent? Lovin' it/r/:~)
Sounds like Red One's got a tune stuck in his head!
It all sounds tuneless and boring to me... (I have very narrow musical interests...) Plus the videos are silly, esp. the ridiculously overdone JLo version, gack.
I'm really not a music person so I have no position on that. You didn't say where in the second video to position to for comparison and I had trouble finding it.

But on the issue of trying to track down copyrights, that's an interesting problem. It's funny because you'd like the registry of copyrights to be public so you could search it, etc., but then of course the person owning the copyright wouldn't have control of its publication. Still, the issue of finding something is not copyrighted is a tricky problem. I've run into this in interesting quotes. Sometimes you find them in a search, but maybe if you don't it's because you substituted a wrong word and so you're not searching for the right thing. That means you don't realize to correct it and you can't attribute it, even if you want to. Add in the complexity of contacting a known author (as you mention) or of trying to figure out what aspect of a work might be copyrighted... well, it just sounds daunting. I'm surprised it doesn't happen more.

I'm a big fan of copyright, actually, but it has a lot of practical problems in domains like music that are subconsciously contagious and where people like (or sometimes just can't help) building on others' works.
Steve: At this point, I never thought I would see someone comment on my post!

Yes, EW is my light-hearted reading. Excellent point about Autotune. I recently read that some artists are using it for live concerts. Furthermore, I watched a few live tracts from Pitbull, the guest artist on J-Lo’s song, while doing “research” for this post. He did not use autotune for the songs performed and it showed. His voice was awful.

Alysa: I’m sure this dude is the one responsible the problems associated with this song. However, a musical artist should nonetheless be aware of what’s going on in the music industry. For some, this is probably close to impossible since many are sheltered from the outside world. Thanks for dropping by.
Myriad: Yeah, some people don’t like the current state of pop music. I don’t blame you. As you said, the videos are often more silly, which often focus on the ‘physical attributes’ of the people in the video (since the voice is autotuned anyway).

Kent: I updated the post and indicate where you can find the tune (52 seconds into the first video).

Thanks for sharing very good information about copyright issues. In literature, it may be easier to track down the author than for music (maybe I’m wrong though). Since I work quite often with copyrighted material (in research), the best approach would be not to use the material if you don’t know where the source comes from. If you do, you may be the subject of a lawsuit down the line. I think this is not worth it, but some people may be believe that it’s worth the risk.
hey this is a great post, I luv the free association and backstory, the kind of thing that one often doesnt get in todays contextless media. somehow this seems like maybe its not the end of the story. and a new lopez video? fantastic. like the song but her dancing seems pretty anticlimactic given her past videos and dancing. she barely seems to be trying.... c'mon jlo, this is the age of rihanna..... oh well I guess she had 2 kids right? haha still lookin good.
but **wow** that mia martina video is really awesome. luv the cinematography on that. the director has a really great eye, its cosmic. luv the lights & neon and the warped effect, the reflections. that video really captures something deep.
vnz: thank you! J-Lo’s song is fine; the video a little bit less. I agree about the moves. I remember reading how some people were very surprised to see how Toronto, a city I lived in for about 8 years, looked cool in that video.
Nice try, but "On The Floor" has parts from the song "Lambada" by Kaoma which plagiarized the original song "Llorando Se Fue" by Los Kjarkas. Jennifer Lopez must have gotten permission from Los Kjarkas, otherwise, she will get sued, like kaoma did.
Jaher: I’m also aware that she ‘sampled’ "Lambada" by Kaoma. Perhaps, she plagiarized that one too. However, this does not mean that the people behind “On the Floor” did not plagiarize from other songs. The melody based on Stereo Love is obvious. I’m not sure why you have to gloat with the “Nice Try.”
I ran into all of this on my own earlier today--pure madness! All I wanted to know was why no one was saying anything about the whole interlude from "Stereo Love" that weaves throughout "On the Floor." But when I ended up listening to top 80s hits of Azerbaijan, I knew this was no ordinary search! A true representation of the saying, "Will pop eat itself?"
Valsadie: Very well said! I couldn't agree more. Thanks for commenting.
hi kanuk just want to say thanks again for all this, was scanning thru this with my sig other who is interested in the new lopez video, she mentioned Kaoma, and then we found it in the comments below. she says if you put in the Kaoma video then its gonna be complete. she mentions that the Kaoma video caused controversy with the scenes of the young kids doing the lambada & the apparent father hitting his daughter. & sig other won a dance contest in a argentina hotel with this song, yay =)
This is great. I wonder how much of this kind of thing we would find if we dug into other charming tunes.
Hey vzn,

Indeed, some have claimed that the melody is a sample of Lambada, as Jaher has been gloating above. If you listen to melodies from Lambada and Bayatilar, they are almost the same. One could technically use Lambada and try to mimic (without legally crossing the line; a very grey area) the melody from Stereo Love and Eldar Mansurov. In addition to the melody, the refrain from “On the Floor” has characteristics that are very similar to the song written by Edward Maya (ambiance music). At some point after I posted the piece, I was listening to the refrain from both songs one after the other on my head phones and my wife could not tell which song I was listening the melody from (as she told me).

People should consult the second link I provided above (The composer’s dilemma). There are a lot of videos and interviews with various experts on the subject of song copyright, sampling and plagiarism. As one music professor said in an interview posted on the website, the best approach a song writer can do is to come up with your original music. This way, you don’t get into trouble and your work could legally be used by others. The bonus: you get paid for it! RedOne et al. should have followed this advise.
bluestocking babe: There are actually many more songs or artists who do this than we think! The first time my wife heard “Born this Way” from Lady Gaga (two or three weeks ago) she thought she was listening to “Express Yourself” by Madonna. In addition to the music (which is very similar), the theme is the same. Thanks for commenting.

Oops, it should have been “advice” in the previous comment.
Yes, I thought the same thing about "Born this way" and Madonna's "Respect Yourself". I caught this I don't even have an ear for Pop music anymore. Much of it sounds the same to me, but this one was painfully obvious and I can't believe Gaga hasn't been taken to task for it in the press...or has she?
I remember a radio DJ (or someone else) commenting on it. I just did a Google search using the "Madonna" and "Yourself," and the third hit was a person who wrote an article or tweet about the similarities between both songs:

Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': Madonna's 'Express Yourself' meets Kylie Minogue?
Kanuk, Jaher has it right 100%.

On The Floor uses the first half of the verse from Lambada/Chorando Se Foi/Llorando se fue. No portion of the melody lifts from Stereo Love. Yes, it relies on similar harmonic and melodic elements - but it is NOT at all the same melody. They use the same scale type, but that is all that is similar. The melody falls on different beats, the accent and grace notes are different - everything is different. There will be no court case for Stereo Love because any close examination will only serve to dis-prove similarities. Whether Kaoma or Los Kjarkas have a case is another question. It is possible this melody has its origins on an old Portugese/Peruvian/Bolivian folk melody (if you search, you can find suggestions of that). If true, this would place it in the public domain, provided one can prove it. Here are some links:
The history:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambada_%28song%29
Lambada on Youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ULds5PWXCc
Llorando se Fue on Youtube (the "original"):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mT4T5GyGqRQ
kqx: Thank you for adding to the discussion. I did listen to the melody from Lambada. I already discussed this topic above. Thus, I won’t repeat it here. The issue about copyright infringement and plagiarism can be very complex (and I’ll let the courts decide for anything that is related to the legal aspect) and the work may not have to be plagiarized note for note or word for word. One of the links above provides a lot of discussions on this topic from well-known musical and legal experts. Finally, I have privileged information that I cannot divulge about this topic. Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to share it with everybody. Thanks again for dropping by.
Just because I care...

With all due respect, on Lambada, you really did not discuss it or analyze it – so there’s not much you could have re-posted. You did acknowledge Lambada as being plagiarized (you said sampled, but it is not sampled, it is just played). Then you moved to restate your position that Stereo Love is obviously plagiarized – but without providing any factual support of that assertion (other than what appears to be a mere hunch). The facts are such that Stereo Love is very obviously and factually NOT being plagiarized. I can tell you are not a composer/musician, or you’d easily be able to hear that there are only 3 notes from each 14-15 note phrase that even happen to occur in similar sequence. That would never be construed as “substantially similar” for a 14-15 note phrase. And, those notes don’t match in terms of their placement, rhythm or emphasis either. But MORE important is the fact that the melody can be shown to be an exact rhythmic and melodic replica of Lambada, which will clearly establish the melody as having been taken from Lambada/Chorando Se Foi/Llorando se fue – and nothing else. If you have any inside information, I’d love to hear it – but factually, there’s no truth to Stereo Love being plagiarized because the melodies simply do not match. Hoping or guessing that it’s the case does not make it so – it just means you don’t understand music. This may be a clumsy analogy, but… you can’t accuse me of copying your cake if yours is white and mine is chocolate. The fact that you didn’t look under the icing to check the color doesn’t make you more correct, it just makes you uninformed. But the person with the yellow cake WILL be correct is asserting plagiarism when he/she looks under and sees that my cake does, in fact, match their yellow cake. You are making an issue where none exists, and pointing to the murkiness of copyright law doesn’t support your position at all. It’s just a cop out that again shows a lack of knowledge. I’m not trying to be disrespectful, I am merely pointing out that you have nothing to stand on – the facts, when examined, completely undo your hoped-for assertion. Copyright law can in some instances be murky, but only when two pieces of music are substantially similar. Not only are these not substantially similar, the entire melody is taken note-for-note, with exact rhythmic placement and emphasis, from Lambada. THOSE two are more than substantially similar, they are EXACT replicas - so the conversations about ANY other song (Stereo Love, Bavatilar or God Save the Queen) now become moot. They are no longer an issue, no matter what you might wish for. If you can’t hear this when listening, and if you cannot transcribe the music on paper and see it visually, then you should find someone you trust who can do this for you so that you will understand the similarities and differences.
kqx: I understand what you are saying. I wish I could discuss it more, but I can’t. When you write “then you should find someone you trust who can do this for you so that you will understand the similarities and differences,” you would be surprised to know who contacted me about this.
The song behind J-Lo's song is Lambada by Kaoma from 1989
I finally heard back from a very well-known lawyer who specializes in musical copyright infringement cases. As I indicated above, for plagiarism to occur, the artist or producer does not need to copy the music “note for note,” which the lawyer confirmed among other things. Thus, whether the artist/producer uses another song and tries to mimic another one by “sounding” similar can still be problematic (also addressed in one of the links located at the bottom of the post; see my previous comment above). I’m not the first one who raised the issue (or asked the question) about the “similarities” between Stereo Love and refrain from On the Floor either.

As discussed here, plagiarism can take various forms. Although the website focuses on written material, here’s what it says about plagiarism:

More subtle abuses include the appropriation of concepts, data, or notes all disguised in newly crafted sentences, or reference to a borrowed work in an early note and then extensive further use without attribution. All such tactics reflect an unworthy disregard for the contributions of others.

Last year, I was actually the victim of plagiarism (written material). The author did not use my work ‘word for word’, but utilized information taken directly from my work. Given the overall context of what happened (too long to explain here), it was obvious that my work was plagiarized. The case was settled relatively quickly when the other author indicated that it was a mistake and gave me credit for the work “borrowed” in a revised version of the document.
The tune in J Lo's On The Floor is directly from the Lambada. Even the notes for the vocals are the same as in Lambada. Stereo Love has a similar tune, but it does have some differences (the staccato, this rise in the beginning, and the cutting short).
Even to the untrained ear, it is obvious that this the "plagiarization" trail:
1981: Llorando se Fue (Los Kjarkas)

1986: Chorando se Foi (Marcia Ferreira)

1989: Lambada (Kaoma)

2006 :pam pam (Wisin y Yandel)

2010:taboo (don omar)

2011: On the Floor (J Lo)

Stereo love has some similarites, but you were barking up the wrong tree on this one!
flofixer: Thanks for the info. Maybe you’re right about barking the wrong tree. However, in terms of similarities, you should ask the Azerbaijani composer, who has a trained hear I assume, what he thinks about this topic. You would be very surprised by his response.
What about the song "La Lambada" by Kaoma. It is identical to the music of "On the Floor" (I think. I am not a musician)
Sorry Kanuk, for my last post. I am new to posting and did not see all the comments. This is all very interesting. I am just looking for more music with the same rythm. I dance for exercise. What is that music called? Brazilian, Sala, Merengue, or what?
Bebe Gayten: Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what this kind of tune would be refer to. Latin beat? World music? I may try to ask around, if I have the time.
Also, check out The Lambada by Kaoma. Eerily enough I've found that same accordion tune. This song is from 1989 as well.
Ahah, hey guys, you think that's weird? It gets even better! "Stereo Love" and "On the Floor" aren't the only songs using that tune. Take a look at Don Omar's "Taboo", that's from 2009. Eldar Mansurov was not the real composer nor singer, in fact, the same year (1989) or even the year before the french group Kaoma published "Lambada". So, at this point you might think that Lambada is the so plagiarized song.. Well, you'd be wrong! To unveil the mystery we need to go back to 1981 when "Llorando Se Fué" was released by the bolivian Los Kjarkas. And that is (finally) it. Apart from the above listed, many other covers have been made so far, so even if a bit rusty, the tune still works! :)
Alessior: Thanks for the info. Very interesting. Part of the information you provided has already been discussed in the comments above.
There is nothing new under the sun. I notice that most are fixated on the accordian loop of this song. However, there is a synthesized xylophone at the intro and throughout the song which struck me as very familiar. Let those with a keen ear and a good memory check this out. I just thought you might find the comparison interesting.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lwaxy3KCfgQ
and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el-1fJOFC70&feature=list_other&playnext=1&list=AL94UKMTqg-9DEc4kFkRNKOT4SLSH0l-7e
and
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdzVqTR_R4g&feature=related
Rico: Thanks for the info. I'll check it out later when I get back from vacation. It is important to point out that this piece was written almost a year and a half ago. Hence, it's indeed 'old news' by today's standards.
Comments are now closed.