Steve Jobs often said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal,” which he ascribed to Pablo Picasso. Jobs’ choice of philosophy seems rather peculiar, considering that he spent his career accusing Bill Gates of stealing off of his work and wasn’t exactly understanding about it. But the concept that artists learn their craft through imitating those who influence them is nothing new.
Bruno Mars says that he wouldn’t be the musician he is today without spending his childhood impersonating the likes of Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Little Richard. Taylor Swift admits that her childhood admiration for Faith Hill was so strong, she copied everything about her down to what she did, said, and wore. The difference between influence and theft, however, is one that can land a lawsuit right in your lap. The problem is that it can sometimes be a very fine line between what separates the two. In the following ten cases of alleged music plagiarism, some artists concur that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, while others firmly disagree. Find out who took it all the way to the courts.
10. Def Leppard vs. One Direction
You would have to be practically deaf to miss the similarities between One Direction’s song, Midnight Memories and Def Leppard’s 80’s sensation, Pour Some Sugar On Me. Even Def Leppard’s legendary drummer, Rick Allen says the songs’ similarities are obvious but that no one in the band is worried about it. “We felt as though it was a huge compliment,” the drummer told TMZ. “It’s nice that their fans can see where they were influenced.” Allen added, “There’s no point in taking any kind of action. If we were to take action against them, I’m sure there are a hundred other bands that would take action against us for taking off of them.”
9. Jason Mraz vs. The Jonas Brothers
Jason Mraz is known for his beachy pop tunes and laid back attitude. But he wasn’t willing to go with flow of the Jonas Brothers’ song, Introducing Me which he said was a rip-off of his 2008 hit single, I’m Yours. “I heard the song and it was just a tremendous, tremendous horror of a tune,” Mraz told PopEater. “I noticed a few similarities in the melody, but it wasn’t enough to pick up the phone and argue with somebody about it. If anything, I just wanted my $1.29 back that I spent on iTunes,” he said. Luckily for the Jonas Brothers, Mraz only wanted to vent and never took it to court. No report on whether Mraz ever got his money back.
8. Tom Petty vs. The Red Hot Chili Peppers
This one started when the New York Post compared the similarities between The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song Dani California with Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance and wrote “The Chili Peppers could be facing a huge plagiarism lawsuit.” But not so fast, Tom Petty told Rolling Stone. In an interview with the magazine, Petty said, “It doesn’t bother me … 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 band The Strokes also admitted to using a riff from Petty’s song American Girl for their track Last Nite. No lawsuit was filed against either band, proving that just because his last name is Petty, doesn’t mean he acts like it.
7. Chuck Berry’s Producer vs. John Lennon
When Morris Levy, the producer of Chuck Berry’s song You Can’t Catch Me, heard Come Together by The Beatles in 1973, he was not pleased. Levy argued that Come Together was not only too musically similar to Berry’s song, but that Lennon also lifted lyrics directly from it. In You Can’t Catch Me, Berry sings “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me”, while Lennon’s lyrics in Come Together go “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me.” Levy filed a lawsuit, but the two were able to settle out of court when Lennon agreed to cover three of Levy’s other songs. Levy took Lennon back to court for breach of contract when he failed to release the third song. Levy was awarded $6,795. The feud continued when Lennon counter-sued Levy for releasing an album composed of Lennon’s recordings, which Levy did not own. Lennon was eventually awarded $84,912.
6. Gordon Jenkins vs. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was always known for his devil-may-care attitude, but he fell into a ring of fire when he was accused by composer, Gordon Jenkins of stealing lyrics from his song Crescent City Blues for the iconic Folsom Prison Blues. While Cash’s distinctive vocal qualities stand out, the lyrical similiarties are evident. Both songs start with the intro “I hear the train a comin’, it’s rollin’ ’round the bend.” The parallels continue from there and were obvious enough for Cash to admit adapting the song, paying Jenkins an estimated $75,000. Cash later said in his defense, “At the time, I really had no idea I would be a professional recording artist; I wasn’t trying to rip anybody off.”
5. Madonna vs. Lady Gaga
Upon its release, a lot of people remarked on how similar Lady Gaga’s Born This Way was to Madonna’s 1989 hit Express Yourself, with some even making claims of it being a complete rip-off. Never one to stay silent, Madonna acknowledged the claims as diplomatically as one could expect from a pop queen bee. “I’m a really big fan of Born This Way,” Madonna said in a 2012 interview. “I’m glad that I helped Gaga write it.” Despite further digs in which Madonna referred to Gaga as “reductive”, passive aggressive tension is as far as Madge took the issue, with no lawsuits filed.
4. The Rolling Stones vs. The Verve
This one gets tricky. Bittersweet Symphony was a hit written by The Verve and used in Andrew Loog Oldman’s orchestra. The symphony was a version of The Rolling Stone song, The Last Time. Although the Verve obtained a license to sample Oldman’s track, it was argued in court by the original copyright holders, Abko Records, that too much of the track was used. In the end, even though The Verve front man Richard Ashcroft wrote all of the lyrics himself, writing credits of Bittersweet Symphony were changed entirely to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with the Rolling Stones getting 100% of the song’s royalties. In response to the decision, Ashcroft said, “This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years.”
3. Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye’s Family
When Marvin Gaye’s kids commented that the Robin Thicke summer anthem Blurred Lines strongly resembled their dad’s song, Got To Give It Up, they were the ones who had legal papers thrown at them. Robin Thicke, along with Blurred Lines co-writers Pharrell Williams and Clifford Harris, Jr. filed a lawsuit against the Gaye family and Bridgeport Records “reluctantly” in an attempt to “protect the song.” Gaye’s family then countersued claiming copyright infringement on not one, but two, of Gaye’s songs. The suit was settled out of court in early 2014 between Thicke’s label and the Gaye family for undisclosed terms.
2. Queen/David Bowie vs. Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice isn’t the first person to sample one hit to create his own. But when he used the guitar riff from Queen and David Bowie’s classic hit, Under Pressure for his one hit wonder, Ice Ice Baby, Vanilla Ice took some major heat. Even after lifting what is arguably one of the most recognizable tracks in music history, Vanilla Ice didn’t even bother to credit Queen in the liner notes. Although the case never went to trial, rumor has it that the copyright holders of the song and Vanilla Ice, settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. The controversy caused Vanilla Ice to defend his song in his now infamous VH1 interview in which he says, “See, their’s goes ‘ding ding da da ding ding’, ours ‘goes ours goes ding ding da da ding ding’. It’s not the same.”
1. Led Zeppelin vs. The World
Okay, “the whole world” is a bit of a stretch, but only by a bit. Led Zeppelin is known as one of the most influential rock bands ever, but what many don’t know is that they had multiple lawsuits and allegations of music plagiarism brought against them and some of their most popular tracks. The band was sued in 2010 by Jake Holmes who used to play with Page, in the 1960’s and claims that he wrote Dazed and Confused in 1967. Zeppelin’s reputation is littered with many more claims of copyright infringement, from lifting lyrics from Willie Dixon’s You Need Love for their hit Whole Lotta Love down to stealing the intro to the legendary, Stairway To Heaven. Sorry, Page and Plant fans, but when it comes to giving credit where it’s due, Led Zeppelin suffers from the ultimate Communication Breakdown.
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