Eurovision’s Bizarre Plagiarism History

In Europe (and a few countries outside it), it is a very special time of year: Eurovision season.

This year, the Eurovision Song Contest will celebrate its 68th edition. Some 37 countries will participate, hoping to win the top prize in this weekend’s finals.

However, those finals have been months in the making, with each competing nation first holding its own contest to determine which song will represent it. It’s a lengthy process that has stirred much debate, interest and hype in the run-up to the finals this weekend.

But, even though the finals are just days away, one of the songs is facing allegations of plagiarism. The song Unforgettable, by Marcus & Martinus represents Sweden at the contest. However, some have accused the track of being too similar to Salva Mea by Faithless, a song released in 1996.

Marcus & Martinus has responded to the allegations, saying, “There are probably just four identical notes. Those same four chords are found in every other song in the world, so it doesn’t really matter.” Other experts seem to agree, saying that the similarities are too insignificant to warrant either plagiarism or copyright infringement allegations.

However, this isn’t the first time plagiarism scandals have occurred at Eurovision. In fact, hardly a year has gone by without at least some accusation of plagiarism among the participants.

A History of Plagiarism Allegations

The history of alleged plagiarism in Eurovision is rich. Just last year, the song Tattoo by Swedish musician Lorraine won the contest. However, it faced allegations of plagiarizing the song Flying Free by Spanish DJs Skudero and Ruboy.

In 2022, a Reddit user named TrollHunter87 accused the Moldovian song Intro by Misscatylove of being a work of plagiarism. That work was withdrawn for personal reasons before it could be entered. However, that year, Eurovision plagiarism stories were overshadowed by a jury voting scandal invalidating several countries’ results.

In 2021, multiple plagiarism allegations were made well before the finals, as representatives of Spain and Cyprus were accused of ripping off earlier works. The 2020 Eurovision Song Contest was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in 2019, an alleged plagiarized stage design became the talk of the community.

However, 2018 was likely the most famous year. Musician Netta won the contest for Israel with her song Toy. However, after the contest, it was alleged that the song used chords from the White Stripes song Seven Nation Army. This eventually led to a settlement between the two, with Jack White being named a coauthor of the song.

The allegations aren’t limited to recent years. In 1979, Denmark representative Tommy Seebach was accused of plagiarizing his song Disco Tango from the 1966 Rolling Stones song Paint It Black.

Plagiarism allegations have become a recurring part of the Eurovision Song Contest. The question is simple: Why?

The answer is straightforward.

Why Eurovision is a Magnet for Plagiarism Allegations

To be clear, Eurovision doesn’t attract so many plagiarism allegations due to issues with the contest or the performers. The contest has strict rules against plagiarism, and most artists work hard to create original work for the massive event.

Instead, the issue comes down to three things.

First is the sheer volume of content created for Eurovision. With 37 nations competing, each with its own contests to determine its national representative, hundreds of songs are created for the contest every year.

However, it’s not just music. Along with the songs come dance routines, set designs, costumes and other elements accompanying the performance. Though the focus is very much on the music, these are still video performances, complete with all the trappings that come with one.

Second, Eurovision is highly competitive. Though it may not be taken as seriously as other international contests, it is still competitive by nature, and some of the scoring is done through viewer voting.

To that end, a plagiarism allegation is seen as a good way to discourage voting for one song or another. This is one reason that frontrunners are most commonly targeted with plagiarism allegations.

Finally, music is an inherently tricky area to determine plagiarism in. Songs are commonly built on similar chord structures, rhythms and so forth. Many songs often sound alike without being plagiarisms, something that the Axis of Awesome Four Chord Song routine pokes fun at.

The line between music plagiarism and building on tropes can be difficult, even for experts. For a casual audience, it’s nearly impossible.

As such, plagiarism allegations are likely to continue to be a recurring issue for Eurovision in 2025 and beyond.

Bottom Line

In 2013, Evan Spence, a founder of ESC Insight, an unofficial podcast about the contest, wrote an article entitled Dear Eurovision Fans, It’s Not Plagiarism, It’s How Music Works.

In the piece, he implores fans to stop conflating similarity with plagiarism. He notes that music is often built on the works of others, and while music plagiarism is undoubtedly possible, most of what has been called out at Eurovision is not plagiarism.

Sadly, Spence did not get his wish. However, it highlights that the issue has been going on for over a decade and isn’t likely to stop soon.

In the end, Eurovision is a potent cocktail of thousands of new works of various types, a highly competitive contest that’s being played out in front of an audience of millions. As long as there is Eurovision, there will likely be allegations of plagiarism at Eurovision.

For better or worse…

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