Your Thoughts: When Does ‘Inspired By’ Become ‘Stealing From?’

Michael with his “Embarrassment of riches!” and the man who helped him achieve it, Quincy Jones.

*Art can be a tricky thing. To create it, you are generally inspired by something: be it an event, an incident, a thought or something you heard. As a writer, I am inspired by conversations, incidents that happen to myself, a family member or friends. Musicians, I would think, can be inspired by the same.

Recently, the legendary Quincy Jones did an interview with Vulture and called the late Michael Jackson the “Machiavellian of music.” He said Jackson “was a thief” when it came to his inspiration behind a few of his biggest hits. Now before we go any further, this is not to say Quincy lied. I actually believe that HE believes Jackson stole the music. This article is to differentiate “theft” from “inspiration.”

BTW, I was “inspired” by Quincy Jones’ recent interview to write this article.

Now I’m no legal professional. But I do know there are Intellectual Property legalities — and where music is concerned, it has something to do with the usage of a number of bars in a song and/or too much similarity, etc. You know, the same blurred lines (pun intended) that got singer Robin Thicke in trouble. 

But do you agree with Jones’ interpretation of theft as it relates to Michael Jackson? Minus the whole “greed” comment regarding Greg Phillinganes. Do you agree that Michael stole music from other artists, or was he just “inspired” by their songs?

Because if that’s the case: Everyone I hear on the radio today is a thief. All the pop stars wound the same. One song sounds like it was inspired by another. Very little sounds original.

You notice how the word “look” has now become THE word to fill a space on a song? Artists such as Halsey in Bad at Love (“Look, I don’t mean to frustrate but…”) to Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow (“Look, I don’t dance now I make money moves). Or what about the other copycat trend, inspired by a first, and followed by everyone else: having a Black rapper featured on the record of some white female artist. Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, the list is too long to name.

Who “stole” from who? Or were they simply “inspired” by…?

It’s like a recipe that is now trending. And if you don’t use it, your music won’t get played. The songs that subscribe to the “recipe” was inspired by all the attention (and sales) garnered from the music of other artists. Right? 

This begs the question: when does inspiration stop, and theft begin?

Your thoughts below please, and thanks for your attention.

3 thoughts on “Your Thoughts: When Does ‘Inspired By’ Become ‘Stealing From?’”

  1. A lot of todays music does sound the same and I agree that an artist can be inspired by another artists work. Just because there is a similarity in songs doesn’t mean that one stole from the other. Michael Jackson was inspired by so many artists but he had a way of taking an idea and enhancing it to make it unique. Michael’s mind was like a sponge, soaking up new ideas. I don’t think Michael was a thief, I think he was just inspired!

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