This past week there has been a lot of furore over Radiohead apparently suing Lana Del Rey over an apparent plagiarism complaint. The complaint centres around similarities between Radiohead's 1993 song Creep and Lana Del Rey's "Get Free".
This is, of course, far from the first time that such an incident has taken place in the music business, with many famous songs from times past being pulled up for sounding just a little too similar to someone else's song. You'd be surprised how many well respected and famous names this has happened to over the years.
1. Sam Smith vs Tom Petty
The Songs: "Stay With Me" vs "I Won't Back Down"
Almost immediately upon the release of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" back in 2014 listeners were quick to point out the similarities to Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down". Apparently the late American rocker's lawyers noticed the resemblance as well and sued Smith. By October of the same year the British crooner and Petty had reached an out of court settlement that included co-writing credits on "Stay With Me" for Tom Petty and his co-writer on "I Won't Back Down", Jeff Lynne.
2. Coldplay vs Joe Satriani
The Songs: "Viva La Vida" vs "If I Could Fly"
Joe Satriani is an American instrumentalist who has toured with people like Mick Jagger and Deep Purple and found himself in a legal battle with one of the biggest bands in the world, Coldplay back in 2009. Satriani argued that "substantial original portions" of his song were used in Coldplay's Grammy winning hit. The case was dismissed in court but the guitarists lawyer confirmed that an out of court cash settlement was reached between both parties. Under the terms of the dismissal Coldplay wouldn't have to admit any wrongdoing. Which leaves you wonder why they had to pay anybody off?
3. The Verve vs The Rollings Stones
The Songs: "Bitter Sweet Symphony" vs "The Last Time"
This one is quite complicated. I first noticed this on a guitar playing book I received for Christmas when I was a teenager. It listed Mick Jagger and Keith Richards (of Rolling Stones fame) as co-writers on one of my favourite songs, "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by the Verve. It turns out that the Stones sued The Verve's Richard Ashcroft over similarities between their song "The Last time" and Ashcroft's smash hit. The sad part is that The Verve did sample an instrumental cover version of "The Last Time" by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. The band originally agreed to license a 5 note segment of the cover in exchange for 50% of the royalties. However, according to Verve basisst Simon Jones:
Then they saw how well the record was doing. They rung up and said we want 100 percent or take it out of the shops, you don't have much choice.
The irony, of course, is that Andrew Oldham didn't get any credit at all and it was his rearrangement of the Rolling Stones song that the Verve used in the first place.
4. Vanilla Ice vs Queen & David Bowie
The Songs: "Ice Ice Baby" vs "Under Pressure"
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of "stealing" in the music business. Vanilla Ice shamefully released "Ice Ice Baby" sampling the bass line to Queen & David Bowie's "Under Pressure". Naturally Vanilla Ice was made to pay an undisclosed sum (huge I'm sure) to both parties and Queen & Bowie are all credited as songwriters on "Ice Ice Baby" now. Vanilla Ice received a tonne of public scrutiny through his farcical explanation of how the songs were very technically different. Which is worth having a watch in itself and laughing at:
5. George Harrison vs The Chiffons
The Songs: "My Sweet Lord" vs "She's So Fine"
If something like this can happen to an ex-Beatle this can happen to anybody. Upon it's release in 1970 "My Sweet Lord" saw George Harrison be the first of the Beatles to have a solo number 1 after the band split. A few months after it's release though, Harrison was sued by the publisher of "He's So Fine" which was a hit for the Chiffons back in 1963. On Aug. 31st 1976, a judge found Harrison had "subconsciously" copied the Chiffons' tune. Harrison wrote in his autobiography:
I wasn’t consciously aware of the similarity between 'He’s So Fine' and 'My Sweet Lord' when I wrote the song, as it was more improvised and not so fixed, although when my version of the song came out and started to get a lot of airplay, people started talking about it, and it was then I thought, 'Why didn’t I realize?' It would have been very easy to change a note here or there, and not affect the feeling of the record.
6. Ray Parker Jr. vs Huey Lewis And The News
The Songs: "Ghostbusters" vs "I Want A New Drug"
"Who ya gonna call?" A lawyer hopefully. Beautiful irony comes into play here again. The producers of Ghostbusters originally approached Huey Lewis to pen the signature tune for the film, but Lewis had already signed on to do the theme song for another film in production at the time, Back to the Future. Producers then turned their attention to Ray Parker Jr with the direction that they wanted something "Huey Lewis-esque". He certainly gave them that. Maybe just don't take everything quite so literally, eh Ray? The pair settled out of court over ten years later in 1995 with the condition that neither party would ever speak about it in public.
7. Robin Thicke vs Marvin Gaye
The Songs: "Blurred Lines" vs "Got To Give It Up"
The smash hit of 2013 should have made Robin Thicke a household name, and in a way it did, but not in the way that Thicke would have hoped. Marvin Gaye's family successfully sued Thicke, Pharell Williams and guest rapper TI for copyright infringement. TI was found not guilty but Thicke and Williams as a pair were ordered to pay the Gaye family $7.3 million (later lowered to $5.3 million) and also 50% of all future earnings for the song. Ouch.
At the end of the day though, music is art and musicians are artists and it is hard to believe that any of the artists featured here purposely went out of their way to rip off other artists (except for Vanilla Ice of course). The Judge in the George Harrison case probably summed it up best by calling it "subconsciously copying".