Published April 5, 2018
“You Raise Me Up” has been a staple of senior proms and weddings around the world since its release in 2003. However, Icelandic songwriter Jóhann Helgason makes a very compelling case that the melody may have been lifted from him without his permission, and may launch a lawsuit against Universal Music because of it.
A long fight
Jóhann composed a song called Söknuður (Nostalgia) in 1977. The song was a moderate success, and amongst those who probably heard the song was Rolf Løvland, the composer credited with You Lift Me Up who was living in Iceland at the time. The Performing Rights Society of Iceland (STEF), who analyzed both You Lift Me Up and Söknuður, found a 97% similarity between the songs – in fact, the songs are musically identical except for two notes.
Jóhann has actually been waging this battle for a very long time. Few know, for example, that You Raise Me Up was first released by the Irish-Norwegian duo Secret Garden, comprised of Fionnuala Sherry and the aforementioned Løvland.
The pipes, the pipes are calling
Hilmar Foss, who has assisted Jóhann with this case, disclosed at a press conference that Söknuður was played for Groban in 2007, who reacted in an “alarmed” fashion. He admitted that the two songs were similar, and reportedly said in diplomatic fashion, “I have to ask the composer where the inspiration came from.” At the same time, he tried to deflect the matter, by saying that You Raise Me Up has also been compared to the Irish traditional Danny Boy.
The story has caught like wildfire across Icelandic social media, as the similarities between the two songs are quite striking, especially during the refrain. The similarities are even more striking in the English version of Söknuður, Into The Light, performed by Edgar Smári.
How the case will play out remains to be seen. Musical plagiarism can be both difficult and costly to prove. Should Jóhann win, however, it will undoubtedly mark a turning point in Icelandic pop music.
Was the song stolen? You be the judge: