10 popular songs sued for plagiarism

by Kathryn Kyte

June 21, 2016






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From classic rock to classic movies to modern pop stars, who did it first?

It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery means nothing when you’re getting ripped off. Over the decades, there have been countless artists contesting that their masterpieces have been copied in some form, with suits being filed and payouts being made. Conversely, there are a slew of allegations that have been dismissed, laughed at, or merely ignored.

And then there are some that get whipped hard — take Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams who had to pay a whopping $7.3 million to Marvin Gaye’s estate after noticeably ripping off Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got to Give It Up” on their track, “Blurred Lines.”

Newly added to the bunch is Ed Sheeran. The British singer has been hit with a $20 million lawsuit regarding his smash hit, “Photograph.” The songwriters behind X-Factor winner Matt Cardle have issued a suit against Sheeran, accusing him of copying Cardle’s song “Amazing.” While the two songwriters, Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard, are openly pushing this, Cardle has publicly announced he is not part of the lawsuit claim, saying “I think Ed is a genius.” Maybe this will spawn a collaboration between the two?

While we wait patiently on that, here are 10 other notable times allegations were made about music being stolen by other artists, with some resulting in serious legal action.

The Hollies vs. Radiohead’s “Creep”

One of the most ubiquitous Radiohead hits came under fire in the early ’90s. “Creep” became the British act’s debut plunge into the spotlight, but that didn’t stop The Hollies from claiming the melody was ripped from their 1972 song “The Air That I Breathe.” Unfortunately for the newbies, the lawsuit went through and Thom Yorke et al. paid up. The Hollies took a split of the royalties, and songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood were even credited in the liner notes of Pablo Honey.

Chuck Berry vs. The Beatles’ “Come Together”

Music producer Morris Levy wasn’t messing around when he called out John Lennon and his crew for copying Chuck Berry’s 1956 tune “You Can’t Catch Me,” made for the film, Rock, Rock, Rock. Levy, the former president of Roulette Records and Big Seven Music who later was incarcerated for extortion, said the line “Here comes old flat-top” was snatched from Berry’s song. At the time Levy owned the rights to “You Can’t Catch Me” so you better believe he was on the hunt for compensation.

Lennon responded: “’Come Together’ is me, writing obscurely around an old Chuck Berry thing. I left the line in, ‘Here comes old flat-top’. It is nothing like the Chuck Berry song, but they took me to court because I admitted the influence once years ago.” Lennon settled out of court and agreed to record Levy-owned songs (including a cover of “You Can’t Catch Me”), which were to appear on his 1975 Rock N’ Roll album. Only two out of the tree tracks actually made it on the record, causing an oral breach that awarded Levy’s Big Seven Music $6,795.

In an interesting turn of events and Levy’s unauthorized release of Lennon’s covers album, Roots, Lennon, EMI and Capitol Records countersued and eventually received $84,912.96. Seven grand versus nearly eighty-five thousand — talk about laughable.

Tom Petty vs. Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dani California”

In 2006 the New York Post pointed out that RHCP’s “Dani California” had similar chord progressions to that of Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” which could be grounds for a lawsuit. This caused Petty to look in on the matter, but he pretty much washed over it and told Rolling Stone: “I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock & roll songs sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry.”

When asked if he was going to pursue legal action Petty went on to say: “If someone took my song note for note and stole it maliciously, then maybe. But I don’t believe in lawsuits much. I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs.”

The Chili Peppers weren’t the only act to be blasted for stealing from Petty. Five years earlier Albert Hammond, Jr. said The Strokes’ “Last Nite” was eerily similar to Petty’s “American Girl.” That claim also gained no steam.

Cat Stevens vs. Flaming Lips’ “Fight Test”

Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens) drew close comparisons between his 1970 track “Father and Son” and the Flaming Lips’ 2003 song “Fight Test”. Although Lips frontman Wayne Coyne denied that it was intentional, eventually the band had to turn over their publishing royalties to Islam as part of a settlement.

According to Billboard, Coyne only realized the resemblance after he played “Fight Test” for the band’s producer Dave Fridmann. Islam issued a statement indicating that the royalties would be divided between the two parties and that was that —perhaps one of the most politely respectful settlements to take place. Bloomberg reported that Islam takes 75% of “Flight Test” royalties.

Huey Lewis and The News vs. Ray Parker Jr.’s Ghostbusters theme

When Huey Lewis decided to go after Parker’s iconic theme song, there was contention on both ends. According to Lewis, the Oscar-nominated Ghostbusters theme sounded like Huey Lewis and The News’ “I Want a New Drug.” Parker and Columbia Pictures seceded and settled out of court.

But instead of keeping things in the past, Lewis opened up about the suit on VH1’s Behind the Music: “The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker, Jr. had ripped this song off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something — they wanted our wave, and they wanted to buy it… [I]t’s not for sale… In the end, I suppose they were right. I suppose it was for sale, because basically they bought it.”

Parker then sued Lewis for breaching the confidentiality agreement and cited that the comments were “inflammatory and disparaging” and “false.” The final dealings were never made public. While this battle is most recognized, it’s key to note the SERIOUS resemblance of the Ghostbusters theme and Lewis’s song to The Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger.” Enough said.

Creedence Clearwater Revival vs. John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road”

In perhaps one of the oddest (and most cunning) lawsuits, Creedence Clearwater Revivial frontman John Fogerty was sued for plagiarizing himself.

After the band broke up in 1972, Fogerty wanted out of a longstanding contract, which required more albums for Fantasy Records. Fogerty handed over his publishing rights to the company, but when he released his album Centerfield in 1985, Fantasy Records’ head Saul Zaentz came after him, claiming one of the tracks on the album, “The Old Man Down the Road” sounded like CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle.” The lawsuit went in Fogerty’s favour but it didn’t end there.

On Centerfield, which sold over 700,000 copies, Fogerty included a song called “Zanz Kant Danz” (later changed to “Vanz Kant Danz”) which was said to be a “thinly veiled indictment of Saul Zaentz.” The label head soon sued Fogerty for defamation. According to the LA Times, when asked about the looming suit, Fogerty did not comment except to say “All I did was write a song about a pig.”

Spirit vs. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”

Ah, the slow dance song of high school. Just me? Moving on. In a more recent case, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are getting heckled for allegedly stealing the opening instrumental passage of “Stairway to Heaven” from the band Spirit. Zeppelin and Spirit toured together in the past (1968, 1969) and Spirit’s former guitarist, the late Randy Wolfe (a.k.a. Randy California), claimed the riff from his band’s 1967 tune “Taurus” was ripped off.

Prior to his death, California spoke on the matter, stating, “Well if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment. It’s an exact… I’d say it was a rip-off.” He went on to contest that “the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank You,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me.”

The case was brought forward thanks to one of California’s estate trustees, Michael Skidmore. Legal proceedings have been underway for years now and in that time a judge confirmed there was enough evidence to move forward with a jury trial. On June 14th, Plant and Page met in court to see if/what penalties will be issued. Apparently the settlement could be between $1 to as much as $40 million.

Joe Satriani vs. Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”

In 2008, Joe Satriani issued a copyright infringement lawsuit against Coldplay and Capitol Records over the Grammy-winning song “Viva La Vida.” Satriani, a notable guitar teacher perhaps most recognized as a member of Chickenfoot, said Coldplay’s song had “substantial original portions” form his 2004 song “If I Could Fly.”

Satriani told Rolling Stone that he “spent so long writing the song, thinking about it, loving it, nursing it, and then finally recording it and standing on stages the world over playing it — and then somebody comes along and plays the exact same song and calls it their own.”

In 2009, the lawsuit was dismissed and it was not disclosed if there was a financial payout out of court (although it was highly speculated there was). Cat Stevens also chimed in, saying “Viva La Vida” sounded a lot like his tune, “Foreigner Suite,” but no legal action was ever taken.

The New Seekers vs. Oasis’s “Shakermaker”

This Australian pop band claimed that the 1994 Oasis track “Shakermaker” shared a similar melody to their popular 1971 song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” which was also used for an ad for Coca-Cola. The New Seekers sued the British band and were awarded $500,000, which seemingly didn’t stress out Noel Gallagher. He performed a live version of “Shakermaker”, ending by saying “Now we all drink Pepsi.”

Casey Daniel vs. Justin Bieber and Skrillex’s “Sorry”

Last month Casey Daniel (White Hinterland) issued a suit against the pop star and electronic producer, arguing that Bieber’s opening “Sorry” vocal hook was taken directly from Daniel’s song, “Ring the Bell.” In the suit papers it states the following: “To write, create, produce, and record the song ‘Sorry,’ the Defendants knowingly and unlawfully copied original, protectable elements of the musical composition of ‘Ring the Bell’ and unlawfully sampled the Plaintiff’s protectable sound recording of ‘Ring the Bell’.”

Skrillex has been known to use samples, and heck any electronic artist can attest to using samples, but he’s not someone to take stealing lightly and shed the light on how the song was made via Twitter. In a short clip, Skrillex shows exactly what was done to the song, which was co-written, and sung by Julia Michaels. He explains how the song was manipulated and added the caption “SORRY but we didn’t steal this.” Bieber has been mum about the suit except he did tweet this.

Tags: Music, Lists, ccr, Chuck Berry, Coldplay, copyright, Flaming Lips, Ghostbusters, Huey Lewis, john fogerty, Justin Bieber, Led Zeppelin, Oasis, plagiarism, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, skrillex, The Beatles, Tom Petty






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