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Classic Copyright Cases – George Harrison

July 30, 2021, By

It’s me again with another Classic Copyright Case. As I write, almost all restrictions in England have been lifted and we step into an uncertain new world – although ordering a pint in a pub the traditional way is a treat.

This time round I’m going to talk about George Harrison of The Beatles fame. Back in 1970 big George was the first of the Scouse legends to have a solo no.1 hit with My Sweet Lord. But little did he know, just a few months later he would be on the wrong end of a copyright infringement claim by the publisher of He’s So Fine, a 1963 track by New York girl group The Chiffons. As always, have a listen to both tracks and see what you think.

The Judge heard testimony by Harrison and expert witnesses from both parties and found that there had been an infringement, stating that “it is perfectly obvious to the listener that in musical terms, the two songs are virtually identical.” He found that Harrison had “subconsciously” copied The Chiffons’ track.

The Judge went on to say: “did Harrison deliberately use the music of ‘He’s So Fine’? I do not believe he did so deliberately…nevertheless, it is clear that ‘My Sweet Lord’ is the very same song as ‘He’s So Fine’ with different words, and Harrison had access to ‘He’s So Fine.’ This is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished.”

In the end, Harrison said: “I don’t feel guilty or bad about it…in fact, it saved many a heroin addict’s life. I know the motive behind writing the song in the first place, and its effect far exceeded the legal hassle”. Fair enough George.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement action or think someone else has copied your work, or even if you just want advice regarding ownership of material and contracts/licences, here at Briffa our specialist solicitors are always on hand to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 72886003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor

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