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Rip off or mere happenstance? These OPM hits were once caught up in copyright controversies

By NICK GARCIA Published Jun 05, 2022 4:16 pm

The music industry can be quite tricky, with accounts and accusations of copying and stealing cropping up left, right, and center.

On June 4 local time, Mariah Carey was sued by songwriter Andy Stone for her song All I Want for Christmas Is You. Stone claimed that Carey's 1994 holiday hit is an infringement on his 1989 song of the same name. 

While the songs indeed have similar titles, they have different melodies and lyrics. In fact, music and intellectual property lawyer Pamela Koslyn told celebrity news website Deadline that song titles are not entitled to copyright protection.

Just last March, Ed Sheeran made headlines when his 2017 hit Shape You was accused of lifting phrases from Sam Chokri's Oh Why.

Sheeran won the case the following April, with the judge saying his "Oh I, oh I, oh I" neither "deliberately nor subconsciously" copied Chokri's "Oh why, on why, oh why" hook. After the court victory, Sheeran stressed that songwriters only have 12 notes to utilize so "coincidences are bound to happen," especially in an industry where 22 million songs are released annually.

But here in the Philippines, just how coincidental can things be? While there appears to be no Carey-Stone situation with regards to song titles, there are a handful of songs that apparently go beyond the Sheeran-Chokri situation—at least according to some listeners. You be the judge.

Orange and Lemons, Pinoy Ako

Released in 2005, Orange and Lemons' Pinoy Ako served as the theme song of the maiden season of Pinoy Big Brother, the local edition of the American reality television show.

The song, which talks about patriotism and honesty, has since become an OPM classic.

But alas, many listeners have pointed out that Pinoy Ako resembles English new wave band Care's 1997 song Chandeliers right off the bat.

Orange and Lemons have denied accusations of copyright infringement and plagiarism up until the recent years.

In the band's YouTube vlog released in Sept. 24, 2021, lead vocalist Clem Castro revealed that it was ABS-CBN's creative director Jonathan Manalo who wrote the song. Manalo presented the song to them with his own melody, but Castro decided to change it. 

"I didn't use it. I told him, 'Can I create a new melody?' Kasi hindi bagay sa banda. We want to own it. Make it ours," the singer said.

He recalled the song as being "massive" yet at the same time, controversial. This, according to Castro, was despite the fact that The Care was unbothered by it.

 "The Care was oneof the bands we covered so subconsciously, it was there, the pattern was there so inapply ko. It sounded similar but the notes are different," Castro said.

"We were being accused of plagiarism... I was dealing with lawyers telling us not to say anything about it. It even reached the publisher of that song, pero wala naman, e. Walang nagdemanda. It wasn't a big deal to them," he explained. "Before we released that track, we consulted a lot of people. My [sound] engineer, my producer, and they said yes. I was being responsible as well. Negative publicity is still publicity."

Toni Gonzaga, We Belong

Toni Gonzaga, the former host and face of PBB, is also a singer known for her singles Catch Me I'm Falling and We Belong.

We Belong is Gonzaga's 2006 song in which the persona confesses their feelings to a beloved and tells them that they're perfect for each other. The track, released as the carrier single of Gonzaga's 2006 album You Complete Me, was written by Christian Martinez and arranged by Albert Tamayo.

Its chorus, as users pointed out, has a striking resemblance with the 1999 song First Love by Japanese artist Utada Hikaru, in which the persona is pining for their sweetheart.

But that's because Gonzaga actually sampled the Japanese hit. WhoSampled, a database of sample-based music, cover songs, and remixes, also posted this fact on its website.

Andrew E, Humanap ka ng Panget

Rapper Andrew E made his big break in the industry with his 1990 debut single Humanap ka ng Panget, a song that urges listeners to settle for the not-so attractive types because the good-looking ones, he said, are usually heartbreakers.

But the song, as pointed out by many, is supposedly a rip-off of American hip-hop duo Cash Money and Marvelous's 1988 hit Find an Ugly Woman—from its lyrics to its melody. Andrew E was accused by listeners of merely translating the foreign song, though there seems to be a shift in perspective:

"Kung gusto mong lumigaya ang iyong buhay / Humanap ka ng pangit at ibigin mong tunay / Isang pangit na talagang di mo matanggap / At huwag ang lalaki na iyong pangarap / Ngunit kung bakit ko sinabi 'to'y simple lang / Pagkat magagandang lalaki ay naglalaro lang / Ng 'yong oras, pagod, hirap, at salapi / Ngunit handang-handang iwanan ka naman sa sandali."

"If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life / Man, find an ugly woman, and make her your wife / I mean ugly, so bad you can't look in her face / So fat she can't go down and tie her shoe lace / Now the reason that I say this, is simple and plain / All the pretty girls, man, they just play games / With your mind and your time, they're not with it / 'Cause if you ain't got no money, then you might as well (hit it)."

Andrew E neither confirmed nor deny the accusations.

Cueshé, Stay

Rock band Cueshé, which derived its name from banana cue, also appears to have derived its popular 2005 song Stay from the hits of two foreign bands: Canada's Simple Plan and Australia's Silverchair.

Listeners believe Stay's intro borrowed the riff of Simple Plan's Perfect, released in 2002. For them, its chorus also copied, at least partially, Silverchair's The Greatest View, also released in 2002.

Cueshé members, however, denied the plagiarism allegations, telling TV Patrol World in 2005 that they "never heard" of Silverchair's music, much less know the group at the time. They didn't comment on supposed similarity observations about Simple Plan's song.

Repablikan, Mhine

Sometime during the 2010s, rap group Repablikan of the so-called "jeje" days of yore released a song called Mhine, a stylized "mine" which denotes possession. In the song, which kicks off as a ballad and gradually transitions to rap, the persona gushes over their object of desire and fervently hopes for the feeling to be mutual.

Once the chorus begins, listeners pointed out that the melody seems to have similarities with the chorus of the 1999 song I Knew I Loved You by Australian pop duo Savage Garden. Though both songs deal with romantic love, the two acts have different offerings, meaning-wise:

"Mahal kita simula pa no'ng una / Sana'y mahal mo rin ako / Dahil ika'y nagsilbing pagasa / At naging ilaw sa 'king mundo."

"I knew I loved you before I met you / I think I dreamed you into life / I knew I loved you before I met you / I have been waiting all my life."

Repablikan has yet to address the accusations, though WhoSampled indicates that the group sampled the chorus.