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Mariah Carey Accused of Plagiarism

Mariah Carey | Johnny Depp | Grrr

Mariah: Songwriters Get Permission to Sue

Mariah Carey's in trouble again regarding plagiarism.

A California appeals court has done the one thing Carey must fear most in life, aside from having to do business with Tommy Mottola again: It's reinstated a dismissed case and given two songwriters who claim Carey plagiarized them a chance to go ahead with their case.

The song in question is "Thank God I Found You," a No. 1 hit Mariah had in 1999 with the group Xscape singing back up and Jermaine Dupri credited as producer.

Songwriter Seth Swirsky — who's got 30 gold and platinum records and is married to the head of EMI Music Publishing — says that "Thank God" is in fact a re-doing of "Just One of Those Love Songs," a track he and Warryn Campbell wrote for Xscape.

A chain exists linking Dupri and Xscape (featuring regular Carey back-up singer Kandi Burruss) to Carey. But more interestingly, Swirsky — who is also well-known as a writer of baseball books — may have the smoking gun.

When he first discovered that he'd been ripped off, he called the studio where Carey recorded the song, and requested a copy of the work tape that was used when Carey was composing with producers Jimmy Jam Harris and Terry Lewis.

"You can hear Mariah saying to them, I have a tune stuck in my head," Swirsky told me yesterday. "They don't know, they're just writing down what she says."

Work tapes and notebooks of writing sessions have haunted Carey in other plagiarism cases, of which there have been plenty over the years.

One contentious, unresolved case — morally, if not legally — involved the song "Hero." Christopher Selletti, a limo driver, claimed that he wrote the lyrics as a poem, then handed them to his passenger, R&B legend Sly Stone, who in turn passed them to Carey.

Selletti was overpowered by Carey's lawyers at every turn through an arduous process, and the case was dismissed over and over by federal judge Denny Chin.

Nevertheless, questions linger, since Carey's defense was that she was commissioned to write the song as the theme for a Dustin Hoffman movie of the same name. But the movie "Hero" was released six weeks before Carey's workbook says she wrote the song.

Carey also got into trouble with a song she called "Can't Let Go." Writers Sharon Taber and Ron Gonzalez said it was their song, "Right Before My Eyes." Carey paid out $1 million to them in a settlement stipulating that no plagiarism ever took place.

On the work tape for that song, Carey tells collaborator Walter Afanasieff: "It's too much like our other song. ... What was the section from the George Michael thing?" At another point: "You know what doing it this, this way that I was thinking is more like a Janet Jackson thing where it's like ... not that I want to be like her. ..."

Before she spent the $1 million to make the Taber-Gonzalez case go away, Carey sent then-manager Randy Hoffman, partner of her then-husband Tommy Mottola, to see back-up singer Billy T. Scott, who had evidently played "Right Before My Eyes" for her.

Hoffman went in with a wire and recording device, hoping to get Scott to contradict himself. The tape transcript wound up in the public court record, and I got to hear it a few years ago.

"Your actions speak louder than words," Scott — who was also offered his own gospel album by Sony, according to sources — told an unsuccessful Hoffman at one point. "They always have."

Carey has several other blots on her record in the songwriting department, including lifting the music from Maurice White's famous hit by the Emotions, called "Best of My Love," and re-recording it without his permission or knowledge as "Emotions." White called his lawyers, who secured a hefty payment.

"Sampling is one thing," White said, "but she took the whole song."

Carey and company paid roughly half a million dollars to Detroit songwriter Kevin McCord; a musicologist had testified that "Make It Happen," which was credited to Carey and C&C Music Factory, had heavily borrowed from McCord's song, "I Want to Thank You," which had been a minor hit for Alicia Myers some years earlier — albeit recorded in a different key.

But Mariah has quite possibly met her match in Seth Swirsky, who says, "I don't consider her a bona fide songwriter." Unlike the writers in these other cases, he has the resources and the resumé to keep fighting for his rights.

"I'm trying to defend one of my children," he says.

Again, unlike in the other cases, Swirsky's other "children" are famous, including "Tell It to My Heart" for Taylor Dayne, and "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" for Al Green  — currently heard in an Almay commercial.

He's had songs recorded by Celine Dion, Rufus Wainwright, Smokey Robinson and Air Supply. His own new album, "Instant Pleasure," full of Beatlesque pop songs, can be heard at www.sethsroom.com.

Johnny Depp Throws His Hat Into Oscar Ring

There's going to be some big-name shots at Oscar this season — like Oliver Stone's "Alexander," Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" and Jonathan Demme's "The Manchurian Candidate."

And then there will be some sleepers. Marc Forster's "Finding Neverland," starring Johnny Depp, is the perfect example.

"Finding Neverland" has nothing to do with Michael Jackson, but it should nevertheless interest the pop singer who wanted to be Peter Pan. The film concerns "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie, played to perfection by Depp, and the way he came to write his most famous and enduring work.

Barrie, like Jackson, took an interest in small male children who were not his own. The difference is that a hint of impropriety was quickly dispelled.

Instead, it seems that Barrie — who was in an unhappy marriage — became enchanted by a woman and her little boys in a London park one day. At the time, there were only two children and the woman was married.

Later, after she gave birth two more times, her husband died, leaving Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet in the film) and her sons (two of them famously named Peter and Michael) dependent on Barrie.

The events in "Finding Neverland" are inspired by Barrie's life and a play of the same name, also fictionalized, by Allan Knee.

Forster is best known for directing Halle Berry to an Oscar in the gritty "Monster's Ball." This would make "Finding Neverland" even a greater accomplishment, since the two films could not be more different.

"Finding Neverland" is almost like a great Disney movie (how ironic). You get the feeling that Mary Poppins is going to drop into this turn-of-the-century London set at any moment.

There's a lot of whimsy at play here, while beneath the surface, Barrie's loneliness and insecurity as an artist rumble with an urgency.

I've never been a huge Johnny Depp fan, but last year the Academy almost gave him an Oscar for "Pirates of the Caribbean." This year, the members will get their chance.

Depp's performance as Barrie is simply mesmerizing. You can not look at "21 Jump Street" or "Blow" or even "Edward Scissorhands" to find a precursor for this work. (Frankly, I can't remember him ever having this much dialogue.)

He carries "Finding Neverland" from beginning to end, creating an indelible portrait of a very talented, conflicted man. This is the movie and the performance to watch when awards season kicks off late next month.

Grrr ... Outsourcing a Step Too Far?

Okay, with a tip of the hat to our own Mike Straka, outsourcing of jobs to India is now beyond control.

Yesterday Reuters news service announced it was going to have a bunch of business reporters in Bangalore working on stories rather than in the U.S.

Friends, calls to my bank, American Express, and my computer hardware company (Dell) all now go to Bangalore already! The people in Bangalore are lovely, but let's face it, they are not living in the best of conditions when they leave their industrial park.

I don't know about you, but I'm a little reluctant to discuss my Amex bill, my computer problems or the stopping of a check with someone who has intermittent electricity at home. It seems inappropriate, for lack of a better word....