If you think about the music of Snow White there is just “one song” that quicky comes to mind… no, not Heigh Ho, that other one!
“Someday My Prince Will Come“, written by lyricist Larry Morey and musician Frank Churchill is such an iconic song that was included at #19 on the
American Film Institute list of the 100 greatest songs in movie history of all times (Pinocchio’s “When You Wish Upon A Star” is the first Disney song
in the list at #18). It is such a timeless and contemporary composition that covers of it are still being produced today in every possible music style and
everybody knows how to hum it, but what most people are unaware of is that at the time of original release this unique torch song has been at the center of
an intricate court case of musical plagiarism.
Publisher Thornton Allen claimed composer Frank Churchill deliberately lifted the chorus part of “Someday My Prince Will Come” from ”
Old Eli“, a song written by Wadsworth Doster in 1909 but only
published in a music book for the first time in 1936, a year prior the cinematic release of “Snow White” (1937).
Allen was indeed the copyright owner of “Old Eli”, a composition
that Doster wrote while he was student at Yale University and that received minor exposure in private local events. The music of “Some Day My Prince Will Come” was written by Churchill on the romatic lyrics given by Larry Morey in November 1934 and
copyrighted as an original composition in January 1935. On the other hand even if “Old Eli” was written in the early years of 1900 it was not registered as a copyrighted composition until 1936, a year after Churchill registered
“prince”, Allen insisted Disney and Churchill heard it as he has sent manuscripted copies of the song to the studio in 1932.
Churchill testified that he had no recollection of ever having heard “Old Eli” and the judge accepted his statement as true.
In the end Judge Conger ruled that “the complainant has failed to make out a case” as playing the song in private gatherings and sending manuscripts
to studios was not the same as publishing a song and further more the similarity between the two composition is not so great to suspect
Churchill copied “Prince” from “Old Eli”. The case ended in favour of Churchill and Disney as the complaint was dismissed and “judgment entered in favor
of the respondents”.
To read more about the case “Allen v. Walt Disney” please visit the site of the UCLA Law School about the most interesting U.S. copyright
infringement cases from the mid-ninteenth century on by clicking HERE
Thanks to our visitor Peter for sending us a link to the UCLA Law School article.