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'Copycat' Musicians Pay Price for Popularity
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The Internet is often accused of illegal distribution of music but many netizens are now using it as a method of protecting the interests of musicians. 

One of the netizens' biggest successes so far has come by highlighting one of China's most popular songs, Xi Shua Shua, as being very similar to Japanese female duo Puffy AmiYumi's 2003 hit K2G 

Xi Shua Shua was released last year by a band called The Flowers (Hua'er) on an EMI album. The record company revealed this week that they had reached an agreement with Sony, holder of the copyright of Puffy's K2G, for each company to hold 50 percent of the copyright of Xi Shua Shua.


Netizens were the first to point out that the chorus of Xi Shua Shua was almost identical to that of K2G. The song was included on The Flowers' album, The Blooming Season Dynasty, released by EMI in July 2005. It sold some 200,000 copies in the 40 days after being released and was considered a great success in the country's pop music scene.


The band was founded in 1998 when members were still in their teens and immediately won popularity among youngsters. The Flowers appeared at the China Central Television's Lantern Festival gala show on February 12.


On February 20 the organizers of the Pepsi Music Chart Awards in China announced The Flowers had been nominated for the prizes in the categories: Chinese Mainlands, Best Arrangement; Best Lyrics, Best Composition and Best Rock 'n' Roll Band.


Xi Shua Shua was nominated for the best song.


However, their increasing fame and the glare of publicity brought close scrutiny of their work. And this led to the media and netizens digging further. They claimed 13 of the 24 songs on the band's last two albums were suspected of plagiarism. Netizens claim to have found the original  "sources" of the songs and posted them on the Internet.


They include:-British trio Busted's Losing You, Canadian singer Avril Lavigne's I Don't Give, Danish group Aqua's Turn Back Time, American singer Hillary Duff's Party Up, Belgian group K3's Heyah Mama, Irish singer Samantha Mumba's, Always Come Back To Your Love, Romanian group O-Zone's Dragostea Din Tei, South Korean singer Kim Gun Mo's Swallow and ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell's Calling.


Allegedly similar-sounding melodies appear on songs supposedly penned by The Flowers under the credit of their lead singer Zhang Wei.


A Hainan-based magazine New Century Weekly arranged for Chen Qi, music director of the International Cultural Exchange Audio and Video Publishing House, to analyze four of the 13 songs and the corresponding "original works". After transcription Chen, a pianist and composer, compared the scores.


He found that The Flowers had in their songs used almost identical melodies to the already known international works. The 'imitated parts' far exceeded "eight measures” which is considered the common standard of judging whether a song is original or not.


"In the thousands of years of music history in the world there has been practically no coincidence of identical melodies," Chen told China Daily.


"Music is a manifestation of composers' personalities and experiences. It's impossible for two people to come out with completely identical melodies except when something has been pirated," he added. The result of Chen's analysis was published in the latest edition of New Century Weekly.


On Tuesday representatives of EMI and The Flowers' lead singer Zhang released an official statement on the matter. While not saying he had plagiarized the songs Zhang said there were some "flaws" in his music.


But he admitted he listens to hundreds of songs every week and when he tries to write his own songs some melodies come naturally without manifesting their origins.


Steve Chow, a music director of EMI, said the notes that appear in a songwriter's mind are often similar to that of others. A songwriter himself Chow said his brother used to help him pinpoint any similarity between his melodies and those of others. He went on to explain the agreement reached with Sony over Xi Shua Shua.


EMI and Zhang's statement was far from satisfactory to most people who have been following the matter closely. Debate on the content of the of the statement, mostly critical, can be found on many websites.


"If EMI and The Flowers don't admit Xi Shua Shua was a plagiary of K2G why do they give half of the copyright from Xi Shua Shua to Sony," said Jiang Hong, an editor with New Century Weekly who organized a special report on the matter.


"Even if those companies come to an agreement consumers still have the right to know the truth," Jiang told China Daily.


Thanks to the Internet it's simple enough for netizens to listen to similar or related songs and make their own judgments about the music.  


According to a survey by, 70.8 percent of netizens believe that The Flowers plagiarized their songs from foreign musicians--only 4.06 percent believed they did not.


Chen Yan, an EMI publicity officer, said the statement released by the label and the band were their final comments on the matter. .


On Wednesday, the board of judges of the Pepsi Music Chart Awards announced the cancellation of The Flowers' qualification for the awards.


In the 1980s when China's pop music began to redevelop after decades in the wilderness many singers initially used melodies from foreign pop songs.


Due to lack of communications with the international music scene at that time Chinese pop singers could leave credits for songs off record sleeves and anyway it was impractical then for them to pay royalties to the original songwriters and musicians.


Nowadays cultural exchanges between China and other countries have dramatically expanded and the Internet has offered music lovers an immense resource to browse the world of pop music.


Another song in focus


Netizens have now focused their attention on another very popular song, The Sun, the Moon and the Stars (Jixiang Sanbao).


Composed by Burenbayaer, an ethnic Mongolian singer, the song has sparked controversy over whether it plagiarized French composer Nicolas Errera's Le Papillon, the theme song from the hugely successful film of the same title.


However, it has turned out to be quite a different case. The similarity of The Sun, the Moon and the Stars and Le Papillon mainly lies in their structure as both relate to questions and answers between a child and parents. The melodies themselves cannot actually be regarded as being particularly close.


Furthermore, Burenbayaer said his song had actually been originally released in 1998 much earlier than the release of the French film which came out in 2002.


"In terms of the time frames involved it's impossible for me to plagiarize Le Papillon," Burenbayaer was quoted as saying by China Radio International. "Why do people have doubts about my work just because it became popular later than Le Papillon?” 


Reports that the film's director, Philippe Muyl, was suing Burenbayaer for plagiarism appear to be unfounded. Luo Keyun, Burenbayarer's publicist, told China Radio International: "We have not received any summons from France. Even if Philippe Muyl wants to sue us, we're not at all worried because we have proof that the song was written earlier. Buren's friends and relatives in France, who received the cassettes, can testify to that."


And as s for The Flowers there could be more trouble ahead.


Jiang said that his magazine would attempt to work with the overseas media to inform copyright holders of those songs which are claimed to have been plagiarized by The Flowers.


"It is the copyright holders' choice whether to take legal action but I believe the media have the responsibility to publicize the fact," said Jiang. "In this age and with the Internet no one can fool anybody."


(China Daily March 17, 2006)

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