Monday, August 6, 2012

A couple of bars copied and you have plagiarised

Rais Yatim, in his usual arrogant manner, is brushing off all criticisms about the theme song for this year's Merdeka Day celebration and he even dared those concerned to sue him for plagiarism.  If only he could eat humble pie and have a re-work on the national day theme without antagonising our neightbour. It is also unbecoming of Rais Yatim to dismiss his critics when it involves the most important day of the nation, and unimaginable as it may sound, the rakyat will be singing a gospel tune.  Certainly Indonesia will not know whether to laugh or be angry with us.

Well, let's put it simply this way.  Rais is no musician and more so, his depth of knowledge on copyright issues relating to music is also found wanting.  Below is a write-up about the case of Bright Tunes Music vs Harrisongs Music in which ex-Beatle George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' was deemed to be a plagarised version of The Chiffons' 'He's So Fine'.

Following the release of the Harrison version of "My Sweet Lord", musical similarities between it and Ronnie Mack's "He's So Fine" were remarked on immediately by album reviewers in the widely circulated publications NME and Rolling Stone; the latter's Ben Gerson even referred to it as an "obvious re-write of the Chiffons' 'He's So Fine'". By March, proceedings were under way for what became a prolonged copyright infringement suit, known as Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, lasting over ten years. In September 1976, a US district court decision found that Harrison had "subconsciously" copied the earlier tune.

Both of the songs have a three-syllable title refrain ("My sweet Lord", "He's so fine") followed by a 5-3-2 descent of the major scale in the tonic key (E major for "My Sweet Lord" and G major for "He's So Fine"). Respective tempos are similar: 121 and 145 beats per minute. In the respective B sections ("I really want to see you" and "I dunno how I'm gonna do it"), there is a similar ascent through 5-6-8, but The Chiffons distinctively retain the G tonic for four bars and, on the repeat of the motif, uniquely go to an A-note 9th embellishment over the first syllable of "gonna". Harrison, on the other hand, introduces the more complex harmony of a relative minor (C#m), as well as the oft-repeated, fundamental and distinctly original slide guitar motif.

In 1978, before the court decided on damages in the case, Harrison's former manager Allen Klein, who had represented him earlier in the proceedings, purchased the copyright to "He's So Fine" from Bright Tunes. On 19 February 1981, the court decided the damages amounted to $1,599,987, but that due to Klein's duplicity in the case, Harrison would only have to pay Klein $587,000 for the rights to "He's So Fine" − the amount Klein had paid Bright Tunes for the song.

Harrison stated in his autobiography that he was inspired to write "My Sweet Lord" after hearing The Edwin Hawkins Singers' version of "Oh Happy Day", an eighteenth-century English hymn.


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