I’ve long wondered how song-writers manage it — avoiding tunes that have already been written, that is. The easy answer, of course, is that they don’t, at least not always, as we know most famously from George Harrison’s trouble with “My Sweet Lord” (who turned out both to be and not to be “So Fine”). Putting aside deliberate sampling, which is a recent and overt pushing of legal and conventional limits, the real worry, I suppose, is unconscious plagiarism. What protections against unwitting trespass does the poor composer have?
Three practical “bulwarks” come to mind. The first is pure mathematics . . . [more]