Subconscious plagiarism

By Patipat Kittichokwattana

Plagiarism is the must avoidant to every scholar and student when journey in academic realm that breaking this academic ethic may hurt yourselves. In general, plagiarism is emphasized on academician and journalist, but it also found in other areas particularly in music industry. One of the most famous music plagiarisms histories was ‘subconscious plagiarism.’

Plagiarism is considered as wrongful appropriation of another author’s ideas, language, thoughts, or expressions. However, some argue that true plagiarism occurs when you deliberately present other’s work as your own, but subconscious plagiarism occurs when you unintentionally do and honestly cannot remember the originality. It is a blur line between inspiration and theft.

For example, in Western music theory, there are 12 notes that can be composed infinitely millions of songs. Huge number of blues musicians wrote their songs that typically in the same set of three different chords progression of tonic (I), subdominant (IV), and dominant (V) over a 12-bar form. It is possible to find close similar tune with one another. Hence, it can be considered as musician accident or unconscious plagiarism.

George Harrison (1943-2001) was a member of the famous British rock band named the Beatle. In 1970, he released his solo album ‘All Things Must Pass’ that contained the most critical song of his life. The song ‘My Sweet Lord’ was his most selling single that went to top of both UK and USA charts. But it also brought him controversial lawsuit and seriously publicized music plagiarism.

‘My Sweet Lord’ was released in November 1970 and shortly became worldwide hit within the end of the year. Among successful receptions obtained, some music columnists noted that the song seems like ‘He’s So Fine’ sung by the Chiffons and written by Ronnie Mack. After a while, others began to point out the similarity between these two songs. Harrison argued that his song was inspired by the out-of-copyright hymn ‘Oh Happy Day’. Later, he was filed a plagiarism suit in February 1971.

After a prolonged court hearing, it clearly found that these songs were quite similar. In September 1976, the court finally ruled that although Harrison did not deliberately use the tune of ‘He’s So Fine’, nevertheless, he was guilty of subconsciously copied ‘He’s So Fine’ as his own. As the court’s verdict went out, the phrase ‘subconscious plagiarism’ was then introduced into attention of public concern.

Not only brought Harrison into bad repute, subconscious plagiarism lessens Harrison’s confidence to write a new song. He said that it was difficult for him to start writing because every tune he heard sounds like something else. Furthermore, he also had to deal with the long process of copyright infringement litigation which finally was concluded in 1998. He had to pay big amount of $587,000 to the copyright owner.

Interestingly, ‘My Sweet Lord’ is symbolized as religious universality. Harrison grew up in Christian family but later he had a strong interest in Indian culture particularly in music instruments and Hindu. He wanted to fuse the messages of the Christian and Hindu into the same song by devised the word of praise ‘Hallelujah’ from Christian and Jewish and ‘Hare Krishna’ from Hindu, and Brahman.

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Patipat Kittichokwattana is PaddyNews writer