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Thread: Was George Harrison guilty of plagiarism?

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    Was George Harrison guilty of plagiarism?

    A federal court in New York thought so back in the 70's, and awarded damages against Harrison for copyright infringement for Harrison's famous tune "My Sweet Lord." According to the legal controversy, when he wrong that song Harrison plagiarized Ronnie Mack's song "He's so Fine," made popular in the 1960's by The Chiffons.

    This may have been the most famous copyright infringement case in the history of music. Listen to each tune, and share your opinion:






    FYI - here is a Wikipedia article about "My Sweet Lord" that mentions the legal controversy and the finding made against Harrison: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Sweet_Lord

    For the record, I do not think Harrison was guilty, despite the New York court's finding. But hey, I'm a huge Harrison fan so I can't say I'm unbiased.
    Last edited by Emoryoid; 04-25-2012 at 11:00 PM.

  2. #2
    One of the stupidest court decisions ever.

    There are actually a few songs that are closer. If George was guilty for that song, then about a million $#@!s owe Chuck Barry some money.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DougO View Post
    One of the stupidest court decisions ever.

    There are actually a few songs that are closer. If George was guilty for that song, then about a million $#@!s owe Chuck Barry some money.
    I know ... the rhythm is similar in a few places but WTF ... its different in a whole lot of areas. IMO 'My Sweet Lord' is one of the best tunes ever! George got shafted by that one. Shame, too, because that $#@!ty decision tarnished his professional image just a bit as well as his legacy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DougO View Post
    One of the stupidest court decisions ever.
    There are actually a few songs that are closer. If George was guilty for that song, then about a million $#@!s owe Chuck Barry some money.
    And Bo Diddley would have been much richer as well.

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    Check this out

    I've seen this referenced before as well, where George asked Delaney how he could write gospel songs so easily, and Delaney basically said "it's easy, here, I'll show you. Just pick a melody. How 'bout "He's So Fine"?". Love George, but by 1970, all the Beatles (save probably Ringo) had turned into bitter, cut-throat businessmen, certainly capable of "borrowing" IMO. Paul "borrowed" "ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on bra" from a Nigerian musician. No, George deserved to take a hit on this one.

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    He ripped that song off. It's not even a close call, really. He just basically took the chord progression (bass and voice in the original), transcribed it for guitar, slowed it down, and sang the same melody with new lyrics. It's clearly derivative.

    We studied this case in law school. As I recall, Harrison's defense was based on his claim that he had never heard "He's so Fine." Sure George. Riiiiiiight. You've been living under a rock all these years, your virgin ears shielded from the sound of popular music.

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    Zeppelin too.

  8. #8
    it's 2012, why is there even a discussion about this?

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    Quote Originally Posted by tbone View Post
    Zeppelin too.
    Best cover band ever.

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    Quote Originally Posted by UTCzech View Post
    Check this out

    I've seen this referenced before as well, where George asked Delaney how he could write gospel songs so easily, and Delaney basically said "it's easy, here, I'll show you. Just pick a melody. How 'bout "He's So Fine"?". Love George, but by 1970, all the Beatles (save probably Ringo) had turned into bitter, cut-throat businessmen, certainly capable of "borrowing" IMO. Paul "borrowed" "ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on bra" from a Nigerian musician. No, George deserved to take a hit on this one.
    Wow ... that story from Delaney Bramlet sounds really legit. Sad for GH's legacy...guess he got really cut-throat after all.

  11. #11
    At least it spawned one of my favorite Harrison tunes.

    $#@!ty video, but awesome song.


  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by BrickHorn View Post
    He ripped that song off. It's not even a close call, really. He just basically took the chord progression (bass and voice in the original), transcribed it for guitar, slowed it down, and sang the same melody with new lyrics. It's clearly derivative.

    We studied this case in law school. As I recall, Harrison's defense was based on his claim that he had never heard "He's so Fine." Sure George. Riiiiiiight. You've been living under a rock all these years, your virgin ears shielded from the sound of popular music.
    He didn't "steal" any more than any other songwriter does. If that's illegal, then 95% of all the songs you hear are illegal. George just got sued because he had boatloads of money and it was a sleezy opportunity to cash in.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Emoryoid View Post
    Wow ... that story from Delaney Bramlet sounds really legit. Sad for GH's legacy...guess he got really cut-throat after all.
    It's not sad, it's just reality. People are people. You can't put them up on a pedestal, 'cause you really never know the true story. Doesn't make him a worse person, it just fractures your perception. George may have very well meant to credit Delaney and just never got around to it. After going through the hell of the Beatles break-up (reference "Beware of ABKCO") and hanging around Phil Spector, who certainly was no saint, you know, people get sidetracked. Doesn't make me think any less of George, it's still a hell of a song. You just can't give in to idolizationm or you're in for a big let-down...

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    Man, this is an old story. Been all through the ringer.

    I followed this really closely when it happened. When I first heard "My Sweet Lord" hell, I thought of "He's So Fine". Friends of mine would sing those lyrics to Harrison's song. Rolling Stone came out in '71 and after $#@!ming all over themselves about the album, came out equally and said it was an obvious ripoff of the oldie. Lennon thought Harrison ripped it off ('course they weren't the best of buddies at that point, but nothing like it was between Lennon and McCartney).

    There is no doubt to me that Harrison thought he could get away with it (with the "99% of all popular music sounds like some other song" or whatnot), but I don't think it was unique. Lots of artists try to do it, most get away with it, Harrison got caught. As to going over the elements he used, well that's way too much to talk about here, but I'm pretty convinced while you can borrow pieces of melody, harmony, progressions, structure, etc., when they all line up so unmistakably as they do between these two songs, the border was crossed.

    One thing I haven't been able to figure out is Spector's role in all this. He was a good friend of Kirschner, the Brill guys, and Ronnie Mack and the Chiffons in general, though he didn't work much with them. I'd have to think that he had some type of hand in it, because we know he pushed very hard to have this single released first from the album (Harrison didn't want to, which also tells me he knew the risks of overexposing the tune). But Spector's been a vindictive bastard, and 90% of what he'd do would be aimed at wreaking revenge or schadenfreude over someone he'd eventually defeat. I've never seen any motives with this tune and him.

    Finally on the "lawsuit".. well of course it worked out well, because the suit was for over a million$, but Allen Klein (former buisness manager with the later Beatles) unethically first helped Harrison in the suit, but then bought Bright Star, and in turn the rights to the song (in effect switching sides). Klein smelled a settlement and wanted the action. But the judge actually ruled that since Klein was now the owner of the song's rights, having "won" the suit but unethically putting himself in position to reap the monetary benefits in a case in which he was directly involved, he would forfeit all of the settlement except for the amount he paid Bright Star - $587,000. In a final twist of irony, the ruling was that Klein had to also give up the song's rights to Harrison.

    So Harrison actually ended up owning the rights of the very song that caused him to endure a lawsuit!

    Muzic bizz is $#@!in' craa-zee!!!

  15. #15
    Does this mean Nickelback is suing themselves for writing the same song over and over again?

  16. #16
    Didn't Lennon get popped for Come Together and had to do the Rock N Roll album as part of the settlement? I'm not sure he was in a position to comment on the Harrison situation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DougO View Post
    Does this mean Nickelback is suing themselves for writing the same song over and over again?
    No, autism is a medical excuse.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hornmatic View Post
    Didn't Lennon get popped for Come Together and had to do the Rock N Roll album as part of the settlement? I'm not sure he was in a position to comment on the Harrison situation.
    Yes and no. Yes, he was sued for nicking part of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me" (here come ol' flattop, and the overall feel of the song). He DID record 3 of the publisher's songs for the RNR album as part of the settlement, but the entire album was not part of the settlement. BTW, only two of those songs were included on the album, causing the publisher to try to sue again. When that didn't work, he put out his own album of Lennon material he had gotten from somewhere, and Lennon sued him. And won. Rock and roll, serious business.

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    John Fogerty says hi.


    http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/85039

    In other words, John Fogerty had plagiarized a John Fogerty song to which he didn’t own the copyright.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tbone View Post
    Zeppelin too.
    jesse jackson is envious of the way jimmy page has gotten rich off black people.

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    Quote Originally Posted by UTCzech View Post
    It's not sad, it's just reality. People are people. You can't put them up on a pedestal, 'cause you really never know the true story.........Doesn't make me think any less of George, it's still a hell of a song. You just can't give in to idolizationm or you're in for a big let-down...
    Straight up truth and wisdom right here. + rep

    Wish more people understood this.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougO View Post
    He didn't "steal" any more than any other songwriter does. If that's illegal, then 95% of all the songs you hear are illegal. George just got sued because he had boatloads of money and it was a sleezy opportunity to cash in.
    He got sued because he ripped off the music and vocal melody to a copyrighted song. Like blatantly and unambiguously ripped it off. Unless you listent to nothing by "My Sweet Lord" and the Zeppelin box set, then your 95% estimate is extremely high.

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