[Smt-talk] Music Plagiarism Cases

Harald Krebs hkrebs at finearts.uvic.ca
Sun Dec 20 11:31:30 PST 2009

Dear all,

Here is an intriguing item that is relevant to the current plagiarism/ 
permissions thread.  The Dada artist and poet Kurt Schwitters spent  
his vacations in the 1930s on the Norwegian island of Hjertøya, and  
often practiced the recitation of his Ursonate out of doors on this  
island.  In 1997, the author Wolfgang Müller visited this island and  
was astonished to hear the local starlings reproducing portions of  
the Ursonate.  He recorded these bird sounds and integrated his  
recording into an exhibit in Germany.  Shortly after the mounting of  
the exhibit, Müller received a letter from the firm that owns the  
rights to Schwitters's work, stating that they had no record of his  
asking permission to reproduce the Ursonate.  He thought this letter  
must be a joke and did not answer--but additional letters of a more  
threatening tone followed.  He finally wrote a letter in which he  
placed the onus for the unauthorized reproduction on the starlings.   
Apparently that was the end of the "case."  My source is Müller's  
booklet Die Nachtigall von Reykjavik (Berlin: SuKuLTuR, 2004),  
12-17.  (SuKuLTuR's booklets are available in automats on train  
platforms in Berlin, alongside the normal offerings of candy and  

Harald Krebs
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