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Inadvertent Plagiarism – Did I Steal This Song?

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord

   Have you ever written a song and worried that you stole that song from somebody else? I was reading in the Harmony Central Songwriting Forum and a user named blue2blue started a very interesting discussion on this. Here’s the link to the discussion click here. 

   I’m sure that’s a question that every songwriter has pondered. What are we other than a mix of everything we’ve ever heard. Think of George Harrison getting hit with a lawsuit for “My Sweet Lord” and losing because it sounded like “He’s So Fine” recorded by the Chiffons. It makes us all question “where did my song come from?”

   I just write what I feel, or hear in my head but we copy what we listen to unintentionally. It’s like learning to talk, if you learned english then you speak in english. If you learned to speak music by listening to the western 12-note scale then you use the melodies and combinations that you know. But it you grew up listening to Arabic music, then their quarter-tones would sound right to you even though to western ears they sound off. So there’s a huge chance that you’re using a melody that somebody has used before because it feels right to you.

   My personal opinion is that all this worry about copying melodies has been brought about by the business of making money. They’ve defined a set of rules to classify art for payment. When you start following rules to make art, then it isn’t art anymore. I sure don’t get the same emotional response listening to “My Sweet Lord” as I do listening to “He’s So Fine”, but by the rules, they’re the same song.

   Bottom line is, write what makes you happy. Hopefully it makes other people happy. If you’re worrying about copying while writing, then your limiting yourself. Let the lawyers and businessmen decide if you ripped someone off.

Here’s a great article called “How Many Melodies Are There In The Universe?”

2 comments to Inadvertent Plagiarism – Did I Steal This Song?

  • Saxy

    Well, I do think on some songs that I have played that I have heard them before somewhere only to find that it sounds a lot like a different song. Sometimes I do think of melodies and then find out that I got inspiration from a song that I had listened to last week.

  • Matt

    And that’s not necessarily a bad thing Saxy. It’s totally fine to get inspired by the music that you listen to. You don’t want to consciously copy a song but if something you write sounds similar to something else then you’re just speaking the language of music that you learned.

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