Copyright laws and cryptomnesia

Glenn W. Peterson

The New York Times did an article on how cryptomnesia plays a role in music creation. This is a naturally occurring phenomena that happens to everyone and with the amount of information now out there on social media and other sources, experts say it is not all that surprising. Basically, it is the belief that one has had an original idea when in fact it has come from another source, but the person forgot.

Those in the music business appear to be more affected because many sources of inspiration are employed with songwriters. Therefore, it is difficult to recognize because a songwriter’s brain simply cannot grasp the reality that he or she has heard a piece of music, certain lyrics or a chord progression before. Therefore, the songwriter is effectively tricked into believing it is his or her original work. To prevent falling victim to cryptomnesia when writing music, it takes a lot of focus and the ability to do some research when something seems familiar.

Rolling Stone reported on various copyright cases in the music industry where popular songwriters were sued over infringement. In many cases, the defense was often that the infringement was accidental. In the case George Harrison vs. The Chiffons, the term “subconscious plagiarism,” which is just like cryptomnesia, was introduced when the judge found Harrison guilty of using the other party’s music through this method. This is an often cited case in infringement suits because it opened the door for other musicians to sue for infringement, established copyright standards that were more strict.