The Beatle and the Chiffons - George Harrison

The Fine Lord

George Harrison was sued for his song My Sweet Lord for allegedly infringing the copyright on the song He's So Fine composed by Ronald Mack and performed by The Chiffons. The copyright was assigned to Bright Tunes Music Corp. He's So Fine was a top hit in 1963, along with Louie, Louie, The Wanderer and Surf City.
Harrison's song My Sweet Lord was released in 1970 on the album All Things Must Pass and subsequently re-released on Best of George Harrison . Harrison claimed that he did not knowingly appropriate the melody of the the Chiffon's song.

Subconscious Appropriation

The court in Bright Tunes Music Corp. v. Harrisongs Music, Ltd., 420 F.Supp. 177 (1976), concluded that George Harrison had indeed infringed upon the copyright of He's So Fine . The decision was unique in that the court acknowledged that Harrison may have unconsciously copied the tune. The court stated:

"His subconscious knew it already had worked in a song his conscious did not remember... That is, under the law, infringement of copyright, and is no less so even though subconsciously accomplished."

Smoking Motifs

Motif A

Motif B

Motif C

In making its determination, the court looked at the structure of the two songs in question. He's So Fine consists of four repetitions of a short musical phrase - Motif A, followed by four repetitions of Motif B. The second use of the Motif B series includes a unique grace note, illustrated in Motif C.

My Sweet Lord has a very similar structure in that it consists of four repetitions of Motif A , followed by three repetitions of Motif B. Particularly telling, however, is that the fourth repetition of Motif B includes the grace note illustrated in Motif C. It is possible that this grace note is what pushed the court over the edge in determining infringement.

In the course of its opinion, the court seems to imply that the infringement was really Billy Preston's fault. Apparently, George and Billy were jamming in Copenhagen when they started to riff off of Motif A. However, when they were recording the song back in London, Billy was the the principal musician while George was engineering the sessions. In the process of polishing the riffs into a song at this session, the Motif B and Motif C combinations came to be added to the original Motif A.