Friday, February 5, 2010

Andrei A strange copyright decision - Down Under

A hazard of having a huge hit song is that someone else will claim plagiarism - it happened to George Harrison with his song "My Sweet Lord" which is a similar to a the Chiffons song from 1963, "He's so fine".

A strange case with many twists and turns where the plagiarism was ruled to be "subconscious" and where George Harrison's manager became the plaintiff when he became owner of the song publishing company which initially bought the suit. Eventually George Harrison bought the publishing company from his manager and the only people who prospered from all of this were the lawyers.

Anyway it has happened to Men at Work with their song "Down Under". An Australian Judge has ruled that two bars of the distinctive flute solo were pinched from an Australian song called "The Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree".

The original composer of this song is long dead, but she died after "Down Under" had became a hit and as never as far as is known commented on the similarity of the contested two bars.

However the song publisher who now owns the rights to "The Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree" has taken Men at Work to Court and won.

This is bad - every musician, every composer that has ever lived is influenced by songs and music they have heard. Hardly anything if anything at all is built entirely from scratch.

Often when you hear a piece of music you know where it comes from, what influenced it.

The opening arpeggios in "Stairway to Heaven" quite clearly come from "Taurus" by an American band called Spirit. Nobody sued. Likewise the Bass Line from the Beatles "I Saw Her Standing There" comes from a Chuck Berry song. Openly used and acknowledged.

A melody line of four bars with two bars similar to another work written in an entirely different setting is now plagiarism? What next? Is someone going to claim ownership of stock chord progressions, cadences or even the chords themselves.

The thing is of course it is never the creatives who are behind these court cases, rather it is the hangers on seeking easy money from things they cannot themselves create.

3 comment(s):

I.M Fletcher said...

Strange indeed. Back in the heyday of blues music, musicians used to take songs and rewrite them with totally different words and no one seemed to care.

As far as using a riff from a popular song in a flute solo - that is just ridiculous. I mean, look at Clapton's first notes in his guitar solo for Cream's 'Sunshine of Your Love' which he admits is the melody from 'Blue Moon' ("Blue moon, I saw her standing alone"), by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart from 1934. I don't remember anyone suing him for that. It's calling paying homage.

Dumb decision.

scrubone said...

There was a story on closeup some time ago about a NZ musician from south auckland who wrote (and performed on TV) a song some years back a song which had the same chords as "Genie in a Bottle".

Apparently one of the producers of that much later song attended the event where her song was played.

One wonders if that claim would have merit after this decision?

ZenTiger said...

It is timely to quote Pauly on this one:

Jump into the Chevy,
headed for big lights
Want to know the rest?
Hey, buy the rights.

How bizarre.

How bizarre.

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