Sunday, January 10, 2016

I am the Byrds!

I’ve been reading Jon Ronson’s book “So you’ve been publicly shamed” this weekend – and very good it is too.  The subject of plagiarism comes up in the book and this reminded me of something - I wrote the Byrds’ song Chestnut Mare!  I worry about the subject of plagiarism because I think that as well as it being something an unscrupulous individual might do it’s also possible to do by accident.  Hence my particular ahem, Chestnut…

Thing is that years ago I had this bit of a song I’d written that I really wanted to use but never did.  In hindsight it really wasn’t that great but my young self thought it was pretty good and certainly worth using.  I was particularly pleased that the chords changed quite fast under the melody which is / was not something I do that often.  It was just a chorus but I also had some words that seemed to sit with it really well.  Not great words mind but I thought I could use them and hang a song on it.  The words I had were something like ‘I’m going to get out there if I can’.  I might have played it to a couple of band members or something, I don’t remember.  It never got used. 

Scroll forward around 10 years and I heard the Byrd’s Chestnut Mare on the radio “I'm gonna' catch that horse if I can” – shit!  That’s my tune! Not only is that my tune but that’s pretty much my words too.  Thing is that before then I had never heard that song.  Absolutely not!  But well, it’s so close that I simply must have done – it was around on the radio when I was a kid (a Wikipedia entry tells me) so rather than the very very unlikely chance of it being a coincidence, it’s much more likely I’d heard it (maybe even a few times) and forgotten – and there it was popping out years later as if it was my own tune.  Luckily I never finished it, recorded it or released it.  And maybe if I had taken it further someone would have spotted the problem in advance and stopped me.  Point is that I nicked an important chunk of someone else’s song completely by accident.  In the modern world it seems very unlikely that the Twittersphere (or ‘one Twitter user’ or ‘observers took to Twitter’ as the modern media substitute for journalism has it) would (and we’re back to Jon Ronson’s book now) would have forgiven me.  And if I had any money it would have been presumably been taken off me by record company lawyers. 

I, ladies and gentlemen of the jury was a plagiarist.  And I had no idea…  

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