The Law and Norms of Musical Borrowing

About the Research

Music borrowing is almost as old as music making itself. Very little music is made ex nihilo without any intellectual ancestry. The collaboration between Professor Paul Heald (Illinois) and Dr Chen Zhu (Birmingham) tries to contextualise the phenomenon of legitimate music borrowing and how it differs from real music copyright infringement.

Music borrowing happens across a wide range of music genres, from classical compositions to hip-hop music. However, recent development in copyright law in the US and EU evokes a worrying trend where the law has become increasingly harsh on musicians who are involved in borrowing musical materials. This culminates in the recent high-profile case, where the musicians of the song ‘Blurred Lines’ were ordered to pay over 7 million US dollars to the Marvin Gaye estate. Similarly, in Europe, the controversial Infopaq ruling by the European Court of Justice and its progeny may also have a discouraging effect on music borrowing activities in EU member countries.

The BRIDGE collaboration between Professor Paul Heald (Illinois) andDr Chen Zhu (Birmingham) intends to investigate a difficult question as to whether the law can draw a line (if not so ‘blurred’) between music borrowing and real music copyright infringement. The investigation is not just lawyers’ contemplation of legal doctrines, but it also draws insights contributed by experts from other disciplines. In July 2015, we organised an interdisciplinary round-table in Birmingham that brought together lawyers, forensic musicologists, music informatics experts and musicians who share similar concerns about law and music.


Dr Chen Zhu

Professor Paul Heald Richard