A London firm of brokers has issued a policy that will yield up to pounds 5m if a songwriter has to pay legal fees and damages arising from a plagiarism claim.
The firm, Robertson Taylor, which specialises in the music business, is not making public the cost of taking out the policy; but it is understood to cost several thousand pounds.
John Silcock, the firm's managing director, said one leading British songwriter, whom he would not name, had taken out the insurance. "It's something songwriters in the UK have not tended to think about," he said, "but in a couple of years I think songwriters will be buying this insurance as standard."
He added: "There has been a rising tide of plagiarism cases. And we were approached by a leading lawyer for the music industry to set up this policy. The new policy is underwritten by four Lloyd's syndicates.
Copyright infringement claims arise fairly regularly, with many settled out of court. They have grown more complex in the digital age with the advent of "sampling" in which clips of older records are incorporated into new recordings, often in altered form.
This is often openly acknowledged, most famously with the Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony", which sampled bits of "The Last Time" by the Rolling Stones. But even in that case, court action is still threatened.
The issue was highlighted in the recent court victory by Andrew Lloyd Webber against an American composer who alleged he had used a tune of his in The Phantom of the Opera.
Sir Tim Rice, writing in support of his erstwhile collaborator, said: "In common with many contemporary songwriters, I am becoming increasingly exasperated about the growing number of claims of spurious plagiarism being brought against successful composers.
"The relationship of one piece of music to another can be a complex subject. There are only so many notes in the scale, and it would require a judge or jury highly sophisticated in musical matters to know whether a certain sequence of notes is completely original or legitimately based on a long-standing tradition, such as the blues.
"I have suffered in this way at the hands of such unscrupulous writers, and have reluctantly come to the conclusion that even the most ridiculous claims are not worth the potential costs of defending them."
Sir Tim's views were supported by a list of songwriting luminaries including Stephen Sondheim, Sir Elton John, Sting, Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, Phil Collins and Mick Jagger.
But not every composer supports the Tim Rice stance. Michael Wild, a musicals composer, claims similarities between his own composition, "Gloria" and the Rice/Lloyd Webber song "Jesus Christ Superstar", written 10 years later. And Wild points out that it is not easy in court cases to be the lesser-known composer.
He cites the example of one case he has researched, one of the strangest and least known songwriting court cases of the century. Irving Berlin was accused of having stolen somebody else's work in the song "You're Just in Love" from the musical Call Me Madam. The unknown composer, had, in fact, proof that at an earlier date he had submitted his material to Mr Berlin.
The judge had little sympathy for the wronged party, stating that "although it had been proved that the song was a direct crib, the unknown composer would never have had the opportunity to exploit it in the way Mr Berlin had done". The man was awarded very small damages.
"My Sweet Lord"
A JUDGE ruled that the former Beatle's 1970 song "My Sweet Lord" had - albeit unknown to him - adopted some of the melody from "He's So Fine" a 1960s hit by The Chiffons, and the two songs shared a distinctive note progression. Harrison said at the time that it struck him as ironic, because The Beatles were the most imitated group in the world. As the controversy wound on, he became obsessive and would listen to tunes on the radio, trying to spot who had "borrowed" what from whom.
Andrew Lloyd Webber "Phantom Of The Opera"
LORD LLOYD-WEBBER was accused by the somewhat lesser known Ray Repp, a Maryland composer of religious tunes, of lifting the title song to the musical from Repp's 1978 number "Till You". Last month, after years of argument, a US court ruled for Lord Lloyd-Webber. Legal fees in the case have already reached pounds 1.4m. And, like the "Phantom", Mr Repp is determined not to disappear completely from the scene. He is launching an appeal against the decision.
Verve "Bitter Sweet Symphony"
THE ORIGINALITY of the 1997 tune of "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is not in doubt. But the band included in the violin backing a sample of the Rolling Stones 1965 track "The Last Time". As a result, the Stones receive royalties. And the wrangling isn't over. Andrew Loog Oldham, the 1960s pop svengali who discovered and produced the Rolling Stones, is to sue the Verve's record company for at least pounds 750,000 over claims that "Bitter Sweet Symphony" uses a theme composed by him in 1963 for the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra.
"U Can't Dance"
GIRL POWER was not enough to save the Spice Girls from problems when they included a tune that sounded suspiciously familiar on their first album. It was reminiscent of an obscure 1970s record - "It's Just Begun" by the Jimmy Castor Bunch - and was heard in the Spice track "U Can't Dance". It did not matter there is barely a Spice Girl fan in the world who was born in the Seventies. Minder Music, which part-owned the original, decided to show some publisher power and now gets 16 per cent of the song's royalties.Reuse content