Songwriter continues fight with composer

February 03, 1999|By GREGORY KANE

THE BAD NEWS: Ray Repp lost his plagiarism suit against famous composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the latter part of 1998, as was reported in this column in early January.

The good news: Repp hasn't given up. In late January, he filed a notice of appeal so that he can take his case to a higher court.

``If I hadn't filed the notice on that particular day, the opportunity to file would have been lost forever,'' Repp said yesterday. ``But it would have been immoral not to file the appeal.''

Repp no longer has the money to pay attorneys' fees in his 8-year fight against Lloyd Webber. Repp sued Lloyd Webber, claiming the theme song to ``Phantom of the Opera'' bore more than a passing resemblance to a 1978 Repp song called ``'Til You.''

``Crazy? Yes,'' Repp said of proceeding with the appeal pro se, meaning he'll represent himself. But Repp says he isn't after money.

``My quest to seek justice against Andrew Lloyd Webber is deeper than that,'' Repp said. He is inspired by the protagonist in Jonathan Harr's book ``A Civil Action,'' in which a line from one of Repp's songs is quoted in Chapter 3.

``Reading [Harr's] book reminded me of what my quest is actually seeking,'' Repp said. Besides justice, Repp wants to prove that little folks fighting against powerful institutions, the establishment and mega-celebrities like Lloyd Webber ``can make a difference in the world.''

One other thing might be driving Repp: the unshakable conviction that he is right. In the 1970s, ex-Beatle George Harrison had to fork over money when a court determined that his song ``My Sweet Lord'' sounded strangely like ``He's So Fine,'' a rhythm-and-blues tune of the 1960s. Harrison's song sounds kind of like ``He's So Fine.'' Lloyd Webber's ``Phantom of the Opera'' theme sounds exactly like Repp's ``'Til You.'' Harrison had to pay up while a federal jury let Lloyd Webber off the hook. Oh, these dreadful 1990s.

There's something about Repp's pluckiness that makes you downright proud to be an American. We should all wish him luck.

Speaking of scrappers, Lorenzo Gaztanaga of Baltimore sent in this letter about the scrappiest candidate in the mayoral race: activist A. Robert Kaufman.

``I commend you for giving Bob Kaufman a chance to be heard. As you pointed out, there probably won't be another candidate for mayor saying what he is saying. If I just wanted change for the sake of change - the more extreme the better - I'd vote for Bob Kaufman.

``The problem is that, while Mr. Kaufman asks all the right questions (questions largely ignored by the mainstream politicians), the solutions he proposes show a blind disregard for individual rights and the way people tend to behave (i.e., basic principles of economics). Take the drug issue. I'm all for decriminalizing drug abuse and treating it as a medical problem, so long as I, the taxpayer, don't have to pay for someone's 'treatment.' Under a socialized system, the government can end up being a monopoly drug dealer, supplying addicts with a daily ration of drugs at the expense of taxpayers who, in many cases, would be appalled to see their money being used in this way. In his December 15 letter to the editor, Mr. Kaufman confirms that this is precisely the type of arrangement he has in mind. If, as he says, he intends to make a WPA-style national jobs program 'a necessary component' of his solution, I predict that many users will continue to get their drugs on the street, even if it's illegal and costs more. If we are to continue to respect the rights of individuals, we must stop punishing people for what they do to their own bodies, while holding them fully accountable for the commission of real crimes (robbery, murder, etc.), whether those crimes are drug-related or not.''

Lorenzo, I'm afraid the poot-butts have got us. You might not want to pay for their drug treatment, but the nature of poot-butts is such that they'll have all of us paying for something. We already pay to jail them. If they're not in jail, we pay for the cost of the law enforcement it takes to fight the crimes they commit.

It's just a question of how to most effectively spend our tax dollars on these fools. Kaufman feels it's by decriminalizing drugs. So far, he's the only candidate who has proposed a concrete program to combat the drug problem.

On Sunday, Kaufman lamented that most of the media had written him off as ``unelectable.''

But, as Lorenzo Gaztanaga has shown, Kaufman's ideas are eminently discussable. It would be nice if the other candidates started discussing them.

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