The Day George Harrison Settled His ‘My Sweet Lord’ Plagiarism Lawsuit
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
Graphic by Press
“I wasn’t consciously aware of the similarity to ‘He’s So Fine’,” Harrison reflected in the biography I Me Mine. “When I wrote the song it was more improvised and not fixed.”
Initially, Harrison was less worried about originality and more concerned with how the public would view his highly public mixing of Indian mantra and Western Christianity.
In this regard, his anxiety was misplaced.
The song was hit.
But soon after ‘My Sweet Lord’ had arrived many friends and fans began making comparisons to ‘He’s So Fine’.
Harrison too was struck by the similarity.
“‘Why didn’t I realize?’,” he wrote. “It would have been very easy to change a note here or there, and not effect the feeling of the record.”
On 10 February 1971, publisher Bright Tunes, the owner of ‘He’s So Fine’, filed a lawsuit against Harrison alleging he had copied The Chiffons’ hit.
The legal back and forth dragged on for two years before Harrison relented and offered to provide Bright Tunes a 40% share of the song’s royalties.
Under the sway of a disaffected Klein, Bright Tunes cast aside negotiations and pushed ahead with legal proceedings.
The case went to trial in the US in February 1976.
It was a public spectacle.
The judgment was decided later that September, with the court inferring that Harrison, who admitted to had heard the Chiffons song before writing ‘My Sweet Lord’, had subconsciously copied the song.
It would then take the court five years to determine what damages Harrison should pay.
Klein, who purchased ‘He’s So Fine’ from Bright Tunes in 1978, was only too eager to prolong the proceedings.
With even the court tiring of Klein antagonism, it finally arrived at a figure.
On 19 February 1981, it was declared that Harrison would pay Kelin’s ABKCO $587,000 US in return for complete ownership of Chiffon’s song.
Klein had asked for $1.6 million.
$587,000 was, in fact, the sum Klein had purchased the song from Bright Tunes for in 1978.
(With some still smaller details still to be ironed out the case did not formally wind up until 1998, making it one of the longest in US history.)
Despite the stigma of the lawsuit, Harrison never regretted writing the song.
“I don’t feel bad or guilty about it,” he contended in I Me Mine. “It saved many a heroin addict’s life. I know the motive behind writing the song in the first place far exceeds the legal hassle.”
The former Beatle, of course, would also comment on his legal strife, writing and releasing ‘This Song‘ after a “nightmarish” week in court in 1976.
George wasn’t one for the legal complexities of the trail, believing 99% of popular music was reminiscent of something which had come before.
Harrison’s former bandmate John Lennon may have put it more succinctly.
“Music is everybody’s business,” he once shared. “It’s only the publishers who think people own it.”