An intellectual property fable

This has a tenuous connection with the previous post to the extent that both concern music.  Over the summer, in the French speaking part of Switzerland, I heard a recording from Claude Francois , who was a hugely successful French popular musician in the 1970s.  According to (despite my reservations about Wikipedia as a scholarly resource, it’s great as a source of trivia) he died in 1978 trying to straighten a light bulb in a bathroom – hardly the most glamorous or dissolute of pop star deaths.

He tended to sing cover versions of well-known songs, many of which had originated in English.  in some cases, he adopted completely new words, so Les Filles et les Fleurs was sung to the tune more usually associated with You Can’t Hurry Love.  Sometimes he’d go for something closer to a direct translation, so I Can See Clearly Now became, in French, nous n’aurons plus jamais un jour de pluie/ tous les nuages se sont dissipes .

But one song in the Claude Francois repertoire is not what it seems.  Comme D’habitude is a number that he and another French musician, Jacques Revaux wrote themselves.  If the tune sounds familiar, it’s because a Canadian, Paul Anka, is said to have heard it in a hotel room in Paris.  He then wrote new English lyrics, which were recorded by Frank Sinatra as My Way.  (If you’re an undergraduate you might need to ask your grandparents about this one).

And why is it a fable?  Partly because, when I first heard Comme D’habitude, I assumed that Claude Francois had adapted a song made popular by Sinatra.  And partly because, although it doesn’t give a citation, suggests that Paul Anka paid nothing for the rights to the song.  So you never know what valuable intellectual property you might be giving away


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