SINGAPORE - One of Singapore's most iconic and catchiest National Day songs, Count On Me, Singapore, has become embroiled in a copyright tussle.
Indian composer Joseph Mendoza has been accused of copying the 1986 song, but he is claiming he wrote his version, We Can Achieve, in 1983.
He also said that he found out about Count On Me, Singapore only a few days ago.
The two songs are virtually identical, except for small changes to the lyrics such as swopping "Singapore" for "India" or "Mother India". Videos of what appear to be students in India singing the latter version have recently surfaced on social media.
Singapore's Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said in a Facebook post on Thursday (March 18): "Given that the two songs, and their lyrics, are practically identical, and that we hold the copyright to Count On Me, Singapore, we are puzzled by this claim.
"We have thus contacted Mr Mendoza to invite him to substantiate his claims. We are still waiting for his response."
In a statement to the media on Tuesday, Mendoza claimed that 250 orphans had performed the song in 1983 after he had written it while teaching music at the Bal Bhavan orphanage in Mumbai, where he is based.
He also claimed that the original tapes of his composition were swept away in the 2005 Mumbai floods.
"The only living proof I can offer you are the 250 orphans who first learnt it in 1983 and all the orphans at Bal Bhavan in the successive years too," said the 58-year-old, who claimed he was a graduate of the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, California.
Although he acknowledged similarities between the two songs, he insisted that there was no way he could have known about Count On Me, Singapore as there was no Internet in those days.
He said he sold the rights to the song to a Christian book and record store, Pauline India, and recorded it in 1999.
MCCY noted in its Facebook post that Pauline India has since publicly acknowledged that We Can Achieve "appears to have been substantially copied from Count on Me, Singapore".
It added: "Pauline India has also clarified that they were unaware Count On Me, Singapore had been Singapore's national song since 1986. They have since apologised and removed the song from their platforms."
The ministry has accepted the apology and believes there was no ill will intended on the part of either Pauline India or the school.
"Whilst Count On Me, Singapore is one of our most beloved national songs, we are also happy that it seems to have been well appreciated in India, with the video showing teachers and students in a school performing the song, and expressing their love for their own country."
Count On Me, Singapore was composed by Hugh Harrison, arranged by Jeremy Monteiro and performed by Clement Chow.
Harrison, who is Canadian, hit back at Mendoza on Wednesday in the YouTube comments of the song: "The fact that he is claiming now in 2021 that he is the original creator of the song, implying I copied the song from him, is a direct attack on my integrity and professionalism and for that he could be sued for slander and/or libel.
"As it stands now, I have written (to) him and given him the opportunity to rescind his claim and am awaiting his response."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.