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US court dismisses You Raise Me Up song-theft case, criticises musicologist report

By | Published on Tuesday 7 April 2020


Another US court has thrown out a song-theft lawsuit, further suggesting that any precedents we thought might have been set by the ‘Blurred Lines’ case are not in fact impacting on similar litigation. This time it’s a lawsuit relating to ‘You Raise Me Up’, the song by Secret Garden that was made famous by Josh Groban and Westlife covers in the mid-2000s.

The Norwegian songwriter behind ‘You Raise Me Up’ – Rolf Løvland – was accused of ripping off a 1977 song called ‘Soknudur’ written by Icelandic singer-songwriter Johann Helgason. When the lawsuit was filed in 2018, it was reported that Helgason and Icelandic collecting society STEF had analysed the two works and concluded they were “97% alike”.

Hegason then hired musicologist Judith Finell who is perhaps best known for her testimony on behalf of the Marvin Gaye estate in the big ‘Blurred Lines’ trial, where a jury concluded that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had infringed Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’ when writing their hit.

But the judge overseeing the new lawsuit wasn’t especially impressed with Finell’s reports that set out why ‘You Raise Me Up’ is so similar to ‘Soknudur’. According to Variety, the judge wrote last week: “The Finell reports fail to describe reliable principles and methodology, fail to apply such principles and methodology to the facts, and fail to properly apply the extrinsic test, rendering the reports unreliable, unhelpful, and inadmissible”.

He went on: “Finell considers notes to be similar even when they appear in different places in the songs’ melodies. Finell offers no justification for this technique of considering notes to be similar despite different metric placements in the melody”.

“Second”, the judge continued, “Finell opines that ‘identical pitches found in succession in both songs’ are similarities, but then admits that there are intervening pitches between some of these notes. Again, there appears to be no justification for deeming notes to be consecutive when in fact there is an intervening note between them”.

Defendants in the case had previously argued that common elements between the two songs can also be found in the public domain folk song ‘Danny Boy’ and other earlier works. Acknowledging that argument, the judge concluded that – when the ‘Danny Boy’ similarities are excluded – ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘Soknudur’ aren’t actually all that similar.

Many in the music community were critical of the ‘Blurred Lines’ ruling, reckoning that it set the dangerous precedent that when two songs share common musical elements or a “vibe” there might be a case for copyright infringement. But recent judgements on other headline-grabbing cases – in particular the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Dark Horse’ lawsuits – seem to suggest American judges are keen to narrow the reach of the ‘Blurred Lines’ judgement.

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