E.M.L.R. 306 (EWHC (Ch)) (Eng.)
“City of Violets”
Evangelos Papathanasiou [aka “Vangelis”]
“Chariots of Fire”
Comments by Paul Sipio (Penn Law School) and by Robert Cason & Daniel Müllensiefen (Univ. London)
Plaintiffs, EMI Music Publishing Limited, asserted infringement of copyright in what they claimed to be an original musical work called “I Menexedenia Politeia” (“The City of Violets”), composed by Stavros Logarides. “The City of Violets” was used as the musical accompaniment to the titles of City of Violets, a television series broadcast in Greece in 1975, at the beginning and end of each episode. There were four Defendants; the first, Evangelos Papathanasiou (professionally known as Vangelis), composed the theme for the film, Chariots of Fire. Both the film and the music were very successful; Vangelis even got an Oscar award
It was the opening theme of the Chariots of Fire music that was alleged to infringe the City of Violets title theme. In his defense, Vangelis denied copying and asserted that at the time he composed the Chariots of Fire music, he was not aware of the City of Violets theme. Plaintiffs asserted that Vangelis quite deliberately copied the City of Violets theme and used it for Chariots of Fire, or, at the very least, subconsciously copied the City of Violets theme.
Plaintiffs’ experts concentrated their attention upon the identical four notes F-G-A-G, described as “the turn,” which linked Bars 1 and 2 in City of Violets and Bars 11 and 12 in Chariots of Fire, respectively. Recognizing that the resolution of the issue depended upon one’s view of the facts, the court rejected the suggestion that this was a case where there was conscious copying. In so doing, the court accepted without reservation the evidence of Vangelis that he never met a particular witness who allegedly played the City of Violets theme to him several times in 1975. While Vangelis accepted that Logarides played him a tape in 1975, and recalled that it had on it a piece by the name of “Arabian Knife” (a curious name that stuck in Vangelis’s memory), Vangelis also told the court that he had no collection of hearing “The City of Violets.” The court reasoned that “The City of Violets” was not a piece likely to be of any great significance to Vangelis, or no significance greater than that of a larger number of other compositions of his own and other composers, which, in the years between 1975 and 1976 and the date of composing the Chariots of Fire music, he must have heard.
Turning to the issue of subconscious copying, the court found that the turn was a musical commonplace. Innumerable examples were produced by one of Defendants’ experts to support this argument, and Vangelis himself used the turn long before the composition of “The City of Violets” by Logarides, particularly in a song called “Wake Up.” The court also noted that the B sections presented no similarity because while there may have been “visual likeness,” there was no audible similarity. Having considered the scores, having heard the two themes played, and having considered the evidence of the experts, the court was satisfied that if there was a resemblance, it was only in the turn, and that was a result of coincidence and not the result of subconscious copying. Moreover, in considering the turn in the context of the two themes, taken in their entirety, the court again concluded that it was really quite impossible to conclude that there was subconscious copying. Vangelis’s testimony as to how he sat down and composed the Chariots of Fire music was entirely accepted, and a distinction was drawn between the nostalgic character of City of Violets and the striving character of Chariots of Fire. Accordingly, the action failed and was dismissed.
Robert Cason and Daniel Müllensiefen (Univ. London)
The plaintiff had composed and owned the copyright in a piece of work called “I Menexedenia Politeia” (City of Violets), used as the theme music for a 1975 Greek Soup opera. The plaintiff claimed part of this work had been infringed, either consciously or unconsciously, by the defendant Vangelis in the theme music for Chariots of Fire. In turn the defendant denied any form of copying. During the case Vangelis demonstrated his method of composition by setting up a synthesizer in the court.
Dodgson referred to as ‘the motif’ of CITY OF VIOLETS, the whole of Bars 1 and 2, you have this very distinctive drop of a sixth from E to G preceding ‘the turn’, followed by a rise to middle C after the turn.
Opinion by Judge Whitford
Opinion Text (PDF)