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EMI Music Publishing vs Papathanasiou, Spheric BV and Warner Bros

1987 • Decided • UK

Claimant Work: I Menexedenia Politieia (Theme to "The City Of Violets")

Defendant Work: Chariots of Fire

The Case

In what has become known as the "Chariots of Fire" case, EMI brought a claim of infringement of copyright against the composer Evangelos Papathanasiou (known professionally as Vangelis), his publisher Spheric BV, Amsterdam, and his record labels Warner Brothers US, and Warner Brothers UK. They accused Vangelis of deliberate or subconscious copying of their work I Menexedenia Politieia by Stavros Logarides, which had been used as the theme music to the 1975 Greek television series The City of Violets. Vangelis’ music to Chariots of Fire was composed in 1981.

The case was heard in 1987. Mark Griffin, in his 1997 book "Vangelis: The Unknown Man" records on page 87 how the claimants sought damages of £2 million in what he calls “possibly a game of corporate tit-for-tat”. EMI had been injuncted in Warner v de Wilde in 1983 (de Wilde’s composition, which was found to be a “blatant” copy of Chariots of Fire, was published by KPM – a division of EMI). Vangelis is a composer of international success, active since the 1960s. His soundtrack album to the film Chariots of Fire earned an Academy Award in 1982 for best original score. The title track and soundtrack album were very successful in several countries, including a number one single and album in the USA, selling several million copies.

Case for infringement

EMI contested that Vangelis had been played the theme to City of Violets over the summer of 1975 on several occasions. They produced musicological testimonies by two experts – Professor Stephen Dodgson, recently retired from the Royal College of Music, and Joseph Cooper, composer, pianist and former presenter of the BBC’s Face the Music quiz. Both experts focused on the coincidence of four notes between the two works, which became referred to as the ‘turn’. These notes are the FGAG sequence at the end of the third and fifth bars in the transcription of City of Violets, and the second, third and fourth bars of Chariots of Fire. That these ‘turns’ were identical was not disputed and was accepted by the court. The sides agreed that similarity only existed in the first bars of the main theme, and the trial focused on these.

Case against infringement

EMI’s claim of title to the Logarides work was complex, and possibly tenuous (ownership was claimed under an assignment from either the Greek publisher Intersong-Hellas, or a Greek partnership, Pantas OE) but in the end this was not a key consideration for the court.

Dr Geoffrey Bush (giving musical expert commentary for the defendants) in accepting some similarity between the two, stated “disagreement centres on the extent of the resemblance and the cause . . .”. Musicologist Guy Protheroe, also for the defence, highlighted instances of the same ‘turn’ in other music and in earlier compositions by Vangelis that pre-dated City of Violets – notably a song called Wake Up that Vangelis released in 1969 with his band Aphrodite’s Child. Vangelis defended himself, and mentioned a number of earlier works that he considered to be the ‘genesis’ of the Chariots of Fire theme, and in particular the 1973 album Earth. This demonstrated quite clearly that the ‘turn’ in question had been written by Vangelis before Logarides composed City of Violets, and therefore could not be considered an infringement.

Score Comparisons

Music examples illustrate the two themes, with Chariots Of Fire transposed down a semitone into C major for ease of comparison.

I Menexedenia Politieia (Theme to "The City Of Violets")

(Logarides) © EMI Music Publishing Ltd. Recording by Stavros Logarides ℗ 1975, KPM Music/EMI.

I Menexedenia Politieia (Theme to "The City Of Violets")

Chariots of Fire

(Vangelis) © Spheric BV. Recording ℗ 1981, Polydor Records/Universal Music.

Chariots of Fire

The Decision

Mr Justice Whitford referenced Francis, Day & Hunter v Sydney Bron, a case which also considered infringement in music copyright, and which also agreed on a degree of similarity between the two musical works. Quoting the judgement of Judge Wilberforce, he said that he “must rely on the ear as well as on the eye, and on the spoken words of the witnesses”, and again reprising Judge Astbury in Austin v Columbia, that copyright infringement in music is “not a question of note-for-note comparison, but falls to be determined by the ear as well as by the eye”.

Whitford highlighted the different material preceding the ‘turn’ in each case. Vangelis opened his phrase with a fanfare-like horn motif, while Logarides approached the ‘turn’ from above with higher opening piano notes. The judge (a musician himself) accepted the defence evidence that the ‘turn’ was a musical commonplace, and felt that the mood of the two pieces was quite different – City of Violets was “nostalgic” and Chariots of Fire “striving”. Referring to the instant case as well as the earlier 1983 Warner v de Wilde case, the judge commented that “Chariots of Fire . . . has brought some not inconsiderable benefit to the legal profession”.

Whitford did not rely on the evidence either of Logarides or his girlfriend, who testified that she had played the City of Violets track to Vangelis. He was not satisfied that either conscious or subconscious copying was demonstrated by the claimants. He found for Vangelis and ordered the claimants to pay his £200,000 costs.

Agree or Disagree with the decision?

Agree 64% Agree
Disagree 35% Disagree

Our Summary

Further Reading:

Chariots Of Fire album Wikipedia page

Glasgow Herald report of the case, 19 February 1987

Extract from 1987 post-trial re-recording of City of Violets by Logarides, with altered melody:

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