The Honest Musician's Fear Of Accidental Plagiarism


2011012720200304 (BBC7)
20200303 (BBC7)

Many musicians have found themselves accused of stealing from another artist. It's every songwriter's biggest fear - that really great phrase or lyric you thought was all your own creation turns up in another song.

There are few musicians who would admit to stealing even if caught red handed, but what happens if the theft was unintentional? And what if you heard lines from one of your songs in someone else's work? Would you immediately reach for the lawyers phone number or would you let it go without complaint if the offending writer 'fessed up? Musicians assimilate what is around them and even the finest tunesmiths derive inspiration by drawing on and re-adapting existing popular music. So is any song really original?

As Noel Gallagher put it rather bluntly when confronted about his musical influences: "There's twelve notes in a scale and 36 chords and that's the end of it. All the configurations have been done before."

Singer and songwriter Guy Garvey, with the help of fellow songwriters Sir Tim Rice, Paul Heaton and John Bramwell, explores the legal pitfalls that can befall the honest musician and how to avoid them.

Producer: Cecile Wright

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January 2011.

What happens when a songwriter accidentally copies someone else's song?