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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

There's been a mini-boom on the radio this summer of songs that sound like other songs. This week, it's hitmaker Katy Perry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

KATY PERRY: (Singing) I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath, get to rock the boat and make a mess.

BLOCK: Now, check out this tune from earlier this year by lesser known Sara Bareilles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SARA BAREILLES: (Singing) You can be amazing.

BLOCK: There's also the huge hit "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke. It sounds an awful lot like Marvin Gaye's "Gotta Give It Up." And the list goes on. NPR's Neda Ulaby says no matter what the song of the summer is, the pop music word of the summer is interpolation.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Interpolation is a polite word for borrowing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ULABY: Like when Aaron Copeland interpolated the folk song "Simple Gifts" into his orchestral suite "Appalachian Spring."

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: This is just how music works.

ULABY: That's NPR music critic Ann Powers.

POWERS: It is part of the art of pop. Songwriters have borrowed from each other, played off of each other.

ULABY: An art, Powers notes, that's been historically unfair to African-American musicians in particular. But popular music is built from other genres. What's borrowing and what's ripping off?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T HURRY LOVE")

THE SUPREMES: (Singing) You can't hurry love, no you just have to wait...

POWERS: "You Can't Hurry Love," for example, was originally borrowed from a song called "You Can't Hurry God."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU CAN'T HURRY GOD")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) You can't hurry God, oh no, you just have to wait.

ULABY: Ideally, interpolation involves credit and compensation, but the lines are, well, blurry.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLURRED LINES")

ROBIN THICKE: (Singing) Everybody get up.

ULABY: Robin Thicke co-wrote and performed "Blurred Lines" partly as an homage to Marvin Gaye. He said he was inspired by this song of Gaye's, "Got to Give it Up."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOT TO GIVE IT UP")

ULABY: In that case, says Ann Powers, the question is...

POWERS: Does an artist have a right to pay tribute to a classic song in a way that echoes that song? I think they do, actually.

ULABY: And there's a big difference between that issue and the similarities between Katy Perry's newest hit and the song by Sara Bareilles.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) (unintelligible).

ULABY: Popular music sends to sound alike and maybe that's what we like about it.

POWERS: Familiarity with just a touch of novelty.

ULABY: The questioning of copying came with an upside for the lesser-known singer, Sara Bareilles. In the past week, digital sales for her song, "Brave," have gone through the roof. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) (Unintelligible).

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