Whether or not by coincidence, osmosis, widespread ancestry or, you recognize, theft, there are many hit songs that sound unusually much like pre-existing materials… or do they? Enter the lawsuit. Whereas some artists and songwriters shrug off similarities, others take it to courtroom, demanding what they understand is their due in terms of alleged copyright infringement.
After all, music historical past – particularly in terms of pre-recorded music – is rife with songs that have been impressed by (or wholesale stolen from) earlier materials. Early rock n’ roll songs continuously lifted riffs, lyrics and chords from traditional blues and nation songs, which themselves have been usually primarily based on people tunes, African-American spirituals and work songs, nursery rhymes and even melodies from classical compositions. Should you might time journey and observe the authorship of songs so simple as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” or “Yankee Doodle,” the checklist of co-writers for every would most likely run north of two dozen by fashionable requirements of crediting songwriters for his or her contributions.
As recorded music grew to become massive enterprise over the twentieth century (and new expertise made it simpler to trace tune authorship and a author’s publicity to earlier materials), copyright lawsuits grew to become a daily prevalence within the music business. However the litigation actually took off within the 2010s, after a landmark lawsuit between the property of Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams over “Blurred Lines” made issues a bit extra muddled (or blurred, if you’ll).
Within the aftermath of the “Blurred Lines” case, many songwriters opted to credit score scribes whose copyrighted materials bore even a passing resemblance to theirs, assuming it was simpler to offer credit score than take care of a protracted, costly lawsuit. However extra just lately, many artists have began to struggle again, fearing that settling with accusers was resulting in extra unjustified lawsuits. Led Zeppelin, Katy Perry and Ed Sheeran have all gained high-profile victories lately, defeating copyright instances by arguing that fundamental musical constructing blocks should be free for everybody to make use of.
It’s value mentioning that technically, plagiarism (taking another person’s efforts and presenting it as your personal authentic work) shouldn’t be unlawful in america. If a dispute over a tune reaches the courts, it’s over copyright infringement, not plagiarism, so the arguments over these songs are about whether or not somebody ran afoul of copyright legislation. (Though most individuals tsk-tsk plagiarists, too.)
The songs on this checklist share two issues in widespread: They topped the Billboard Scorching 100, and a few individuals imagine they lifted components from a beforehand current tune. Inclusion on this checklist doesn’t indicate wrongdoing. A number of of those disagreements settled out of courtroom; one was settled with none lawsuit being filed; and one artist handily gained their case in opposition to the accuser.
Learn on to see how the remainder of the songs fared.
Some may argue that the person most accountable for forming rock n’ roll might sue any variety of ’50s and ’60s hitmakers for lifting his sound. Whereas Berry won’t have been litigious, the individuals who owned the publishing rights to a few of his materials have been. Large Seven Music Corp. (owned by Morris Levy) introduced a lawsuit in opposition to John Lennon for alleged similarities between Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and the Beatles’ “Come Together,” a one-week No. 1 in 1969. Berry’s tune featured the road, “Here come a flat-top, he was movin’ up with me,” whereas the Lennon composition consists of the lyric, “Here come ol’ flat-top, he come groovin’ up slowly.” The case was settled out of courtroom, with Lennon agreeing to file three rock n’ roll songs owned by Levy. Lennon solely formally launched two: “Ya Ya” and “You Can’t Catch Me.”
“My Sweet Lord”
When George Harrison notched his first solo No. 1 on the Billboard Scorching 100 in December 1970 with “My Sweet Lord,” issues have been trying up for the freed Beatle. Six years later, a authorized battle dampened that victory when a courtroom determined he “subconsciously” copied the Chiffons tune “He’s So Fine,” written by Ronald Mack. Harrison claimed the courtroom battle left him too “paranoid” to put in writing new songs for a while.
“How Deep Is Your Love”
Practically six years after the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” topped the Scorching 100 in late 1977, a songwriter named Ronald Selle alleged that their hit stole from his 1975 demo “Let It End.” Whereas a jury initially present in favor of Selle, the decide permitted the Bee Gees a judgment however the decision and dominated of their favor. An attraction to a better courtroom additionally present in favor of the Bee Gees.
“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor alleged that Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” — a four-week No. 1 in 1979 — plagiarized parts of his tune “Taj Mahal.” The 2 settled out of courtroom, and in his 2012 autobiography, Stewart admitted to “unconscious plagiarism.”
In 1984, Ray Parker Jr. requested “who you gonna call?” on his Scorching 100 No. 1 “Ghostbusters,” the theme to the movie of the identical title, which topped the chart for 3 weeks that 12 months. Huey Lewis heard the tune and answered, “A lawyer.” Lewis sued Parker for plagiarism for copying his tune “I Want a New Drug”; the 2 ultimately settled out of courtroom.
“Ice Ice Baby”
Vanilla Ice rode a cool bass line to No. 1 on the Scorching 100 in 1990, giving hip-hop its first-ever No. 1 hit on that chart. Sadly for him, loads of listeners identified the tune’s similarity to the 1981 tune “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. Whereas Vanilla Ice denied the similarity at first, he later relented and determined to pay each events royalties with the intention to keep away from a courtroom battle.
“Viva la Vida”
Coldplay scored their first No. 1 on the Billboard Scorching 100 in 2008 with “Viva la Vida,” attracting the eye of guitarist Joe Satriani, who claimed it copied elements of his 2004 instrumental observe “If I Could Fly.” The band referred to as it a coincidence however settled out of courtroom with him in 2009.
“Blurred Lines” was the tune of the summer season in 2013, topping the Scorching 100 for 12 consecutive weeks. The property of Marvin Gaye took discover, accusing Robin Thicke and Pharrell of ripping off Gaye’s 1977 tune “Got to Give It Up” for his or her smash hit. In March 2015, a jury got here down on the aspect of the Gaye property, awarding them $7.4 million. The quantity was later lowered to just about $5 million in 2018.
Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” that includes Juicy J, topped the Scorching 100 for 4 weeks in 2014. Not lengthy after, the pop star was hit with a lawsuit alleging her tune infringed on the 2008 observe “Joyful Noise” by Christian artist Flame. A protracted however consequential authorized battle ensued over a quick sequence of notes. In 2019, a jury present in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them $2.78 million, however in 2020, a decide overturned the decision, ruling the musical sequence in query was too easy to copyright. In 2022, a federal appeals courtroom additionally dominated in favor of Perry and her co-defendants, reasoning that the notes in query have been fundamental constructing blocks of music.
“Shape of You”
Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” which topped the Scorching 100 for 12 weeks in 2017, was hit with a copyright lawsuit which alleged the only was “strikingly similar” to a portion of the tune “Oh Why” from grime artist Sami Chokri. In June 2022, a decide dominated in Sheeran’s favor, and awarded Sheeran and his co-writers $1.1 million in authorized prices.
Grande’s “7 Rings” includes a outstanding pattern of The Sound of Music traditional “My Favorite Things,” and it tipped to that, itemizing Rodgers & Hammerstein as co-writers when it debuted in 2019. However one 12 months (and eight weeks atop the Scorching 100) later, singer-producer Josh Stone filed a lawsuit alleging the Grande hit ripped off his 2017 single “You Need I Got It.” In early 2021, the disagreement was settled out of courtroom.
Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts” got here out in 2017 however didn’t turn into successful till 2019 when it topped the Scorching 100 for seven weeks. That very same 12 months, three individuals accused Lizzo of failing to correctly credit score them for his or her contributions to the tune and filed swimsuit. In 2021, a decide dismissed a number of of the claims in opposition to Lizzo, and in 2022, all events reached an settlement to dismiss the matter.
“Good 4 U”
Three months after Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U” topped the Scorching 100, Hayley Williams and Josh Farro, who co-wrote Paramore’s 2007 hit “Misery Business,” have been formally added as songwriters to the tune. Previous to the official replace on the tune’s credit, commentators famous similarities between Rodrigo’s second chart-topper and Paramore’s pop-punk traditional. Reps for Rodrigo and Paramore had reportedly been in contact previous to the tune’s launch.