ILP is suing OCP

In intellectual property law news, it is reported that Vincent A. Ambrosetti of International Liturgy Publications has filed suit alleging that Oregon Catholic Press and Bernadette Farrell have infringed upon their copyrights by publishing “Christ Be Our Light,” which is strikingly similar to “Emmanuel” published by ILP in 1980.

17 comments

    1. Some coincidental similarities in melodic contour in the opening two phrases, but rhythms, harmonies, tempo, etc, are all very different and in the context of the totality of both pieces no reasonable person would see a deliberate copyright infringement.

      I doubt very much whether Bernadette Farrell is familiar with any of Vince Ambrosetti’s pieces. I remember some years ago receiving an email from a friend telling me that a psalm response i had written was the same as the theme tune to Miami Vice ! I had never seen that programme, and I still can’t see the similarity!

      1. Just do the traditional thing: reference classic motifs like L’homme armé, Dies Irae, Folies d’Espagne and the Phrygian tetrachord. No one can sue for repurposing those: they are meant to be repurposed over and over again; the way music used to work, as it were.

      2. A few things :
        1) since copyright infringement is a strict liability tort in the US
        2) plaintiff only needs to demonstrate “access” and “substantial similarity.”
        3) “Access” means the defendant *could’ve* heard the plaintiff’s work. Perhaps the Farrell piece merely coincidentally resembles Ambrosetti. If so, it’d be irrelevant all the same. His complaint strategically notes that the piece was done in London (when Farrell was there).
        4) “Substantial similarity” in precedent seems to heavily weigh melodic similarity. I agree that other salient features are very different indeed! (It’s suspiciously/expediently ambiguous that the musical illustration in the complaint removes any textual, harmonic, rhythmic, or metrical context–mitigating factors??)
        5) Yet, even if these verse melodies (somewhat) resemble each other, they’re both diatonically modal tunes (i.e. 7 maximum pitches) supported by scène-à-faire harmony (i.e. i-v-i, circle of 5ths sequences). This is utilitarian church music–successful precisely in the degree to which it is technically, fundamentally simple…perhaps so simple that I wonder how proprietary it can be.

  1. That’s a sad fact. Absent a clear cut case, I don’t think Christian publishers should being sue each other in this sort of thing.

  2. There are some similarities, and they are both Aeolian on E, and in triple meter. I doubt it’s an intentional ripoff, but it could be a subconscious borrowing. Honestly, when we have this many banal faux-folk melodies, this kind of thing is bound to happen.

    1. An English composer familiar with a deep self-published American? Not bloody likely. I think the “faux-folk” adjective is an interesting attempt at faux-superiority. It’s a good melody–not Welsh or French, but serviceable and sturdy and most importantly for liturgical music, it carries a good text well. When it comes to good liturgy, not everything is about personal taste in melody. There are other important considerations. And if one feels faux-superior, why bother with the matter at all?

    2. Doug, one of the marks of a liturgical composer is her/his ability to write modally rather than tonally. Not faux-folk at all.

      Christ, be our light is notable in fact for its oscillation between minor and major modes. The much-despised Gather us in by Marty Haugen is another example of a modal melody, complete with flattened 7th.

  3. I was shocked to read and hear on how ILP is suing OCP’s Christ Be Our Light. I listened to the Emmanuel song six times. As a songwriter myself who is also hearing impaired, both hymn sounds nothing alike. What are the copyrights on both years of the hymn?

  4. I have listened to Emmanuel and I know Christ Be Our Light. To my ears they are not remotely similar. The lawsuit seems like a waste of time.

  5. I agree. This is non-sense.
    There is nothing similar in the absolute sense between both, “Emmanuel” and “Christ Be Our Light”.
    The lawsuit is ludicrous. If one believes it, then no composer would even be able to write a four-note scale without being sued for copyright infringement.

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