Sam Smith plagiarism case finally settled

Sam SmithSam Smith – know for his vocals on Disclosure’s “Latch”, Naughty Boy’s “La La La” and his own numerous releases – did well at the recent Grammys scooping up four awards that included Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Album. His biggest and perhaps most well known hit “Stay With Me” was a contender for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year, and it scooped up both.

The song has, however, attracted considerable attention of late, with many people both inside and outside of the music industry claiming that it bore an uncanny resemblance to Tom Petty’s well known song “I won’t back down”, released in 1989.

Sam claimed he had never actually heard Tom Petty’s song although this type of evidence is rarely relevant in a copyright infringement case. Speaking to CBC News, Sam stated:

“it [the song resemblance] was a complete accident … I am 22 years old … I’ve never listened to that song.”

Had the case proceeded to court, Tom and his co-writer Jeff Lynne would have had the burden of proof and would have had to show that their song was substantially similar to Sam’s. But this case didn’t proceed down the usual route. Sam’s legal team took it upon themselves to compare the songs and decided to seek an amicable settlement. This included that Tom and Jeff were added to the list of writers of “Stay With Me”.

Interestingly, George Harrison, who provided acoustic guitar and backing vocals on “Don’t Back Down”, was involved with in a copyright case back in 1971 and this provided guidance to Sam’s lawyers. Back in ’71, George was accused of copying a Chiffons song, “He’s So Fine.” George’s hit “My Sweet Lord,” supposedly borrowed from the harmony and melody of the original song. The Court concluded that In George’s case, the court came to the conclusion that the former Beatle had subconsciously appropriated musical ideas from “He’s So Fine.”

Sam’s legal team used the same kind of analysis that was carried out in the earlier case, which led them to the decision to settle amicably.

Do you think it’s possible for two people to come up with the same melodies without having heard each other’s work? Or do you think this is more likely to be a case of cryptomnesia? Cryptomnesia is a type of plagiarism that involves a forgotten memory. You might have read something or heard a piece of music which you then forget about, and go on to write or create the same piece, thinking that you are the original artist. You can read more about cryptomnesia here.

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