Creative property is a delicate thing. It also holds lots of power. You can listen to a few seconds of a song and immediately know the artist. This is why retaining the rights to music and songs has long been precious to artists. After all, their fame due to artistic work is their livelihood. A song that an artist creates is also an artistic structure that can capture a certain moment in time, making the composition even more significant.
But there are those times where the lines get “blurred” in terms of which music belongs to whom. There are remixes of songs that were popular in decades past that have been revived again by today’s singers. Then there are songs with similar rhythms and melodies to other songs. In these cases, did the artist who sang or performed the song last, steal creative property from the original artist? Should the artist who didn’t sing or compose the song originally be punished? Or is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Is imitation without proper acknowledgment grounds for suing? Apparently, yes. Here are 10 well-known artists, whose songs you probably enjoy on a regular basis, who have been sued for not handling creative property with the fragile and attentive care it deserves.
The band Oasis has done its share of “being inspired” by other artists and jingles in order to create their albums. The band even used melodies and arrangements that on their song “Step Out” sounded very similar to “Uptight,” a song composed by the legendary Stevie Wonder. The legal actions Wonder took aren’t fully disclosed, but the song “Step Out” was part of Oasis’ early promotion of their project before it was pulled from the album. When the song reappeared on the album, Stevie Wonder was given songwriter credit.
The band is also known for borrowing a few lyrical arrangements from “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” a Coke commercial that was popular in the 1970s.
Radiohead is a well-known band that was formed in 1985. The band has produced a ton of original music and has won numerous awards. However, their song “Creep” was so apparently inspired by “The Air I Breathe”, by The Hollies and when The Hollies sued Radiohead, they won. Radiohead was forced to share writer’s credit with Mike Hazlewood and Albert Hammond of The Hollies, after legal proceedings proved that it was time to pass some of the creative credit around.
8. Ray Parker, Jr.
Ray Parker, Jr. is perhaps best known for being nominated for an Oscar for writing the theme song to Ghostbusters. But Huey Lewis probably wasn’t too thrilled about the news. Lewis sued Columbia Pictures and Parker, claiming that the song sounded a lot like Huey Lewis and The News’ tune, “I Want a New Drug” which was released shortly before the Ghostbusters movie. The case was settled out of court. However, Lewis violated his confidentiality agreement when he discussed the legal matter in 2001 on VH1’s Behind the Music. This led to Ray Parker suing Huey Lewis.
Years later, Ghostbusters producers stated that they originally asked Lewis to record the movie’s theme song. When he declined, they hired Parker, and provided him with “I Want A New Drug” to help him write the song.
7. Avril Lavigne
In 2007, Avril Lavigne released her single “Girlfriend”. It sounded a lot like “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” by The Rubinoos. The band, which was popular in the 1970s, sued Avril Lavigne and her writing partner, Dr. Luke, stating that the cords and melody had a striking resemblance to the original tune. Lavigne’s manager later stated that the lawsuit didn’t have any basis, and that the songs weren’t similar at all. Lavigne also stated on social media that she had never heard the song by The Rubinoos in her life. The band and Lavigne were able to reach a settlement out of court for an undisclosed amount.
The popular rock pop band Coldplay was sued in 2008, by instrumental guitarist Joe Satriani, on the grounds that the band’s song “Viva la Vida” contains a number of original portions from Satriani’s 2004 tune, “If I Could Fly”. The band stated that they were surprised by the lawsuit, and that any parts of their song that sounded like “If I Could Fly” were purely coincidence. The two parties were able to settle the dispute out of court for an undisclosed amount. It seems this incident was purely a matter of two creative minds thinking alike or similarly, at least.
5. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams
The family of Marvin Gaye recently sued artists Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, for using the rhythm and melodic progressions from Marvin Gaye’s 1970s hit “Got To Give It Up”. After receiving threats from the Gaye family, Thicke and Williams filed a lawsuit in 2014, in an attempt to prove that their song “Blurred Lines” was an original. A California judge, however, ruled that parts of “Blurred Lines” bore a strong resemblance to Marvin Gaye’s tune. Williams and Thicke were originally supposed to pay $7.2 million to the Gaye family, but eventually settled the case with an undisclosed amount.
The Gaye family also asserts that Thicke stole parts of Marvin Gaye’s song “After The Dance”, for his hit “Love After War.”
4. Beyonce and Jay-Z
Music’s power couple, Beyonce and Jay-Z were sued for their hit “Drunk In Love”. Mitsou, a Hungarian folk singer, claims she wrote a song with melodies that are strikingly similar to the intro to “Drunk In Love”. Mitsou’s song was written in 1995. She claims that she never gave Beyonce and Jay-Z permission to use any part of her song, and that her original tune, called “Bajba, Bajba Palem” is a song about hopelessness. She’s unhappy that Beyonce used it to pen an anthem with overtly sexual messages. The Hungarian singer also states that her voice was manipulated and “cut” in certain parts of the song. Bitsou sued for damages, and wants a judge to prohibit the song version that contains her voice from being played or performed.
3. Rod Stewart
Jorge Ben, a Brazilian musician, sued Rod Stewart for using his vocal hook on Stewart’s popular song, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”. The hook was taken from Ben’s song “Taj Mahal”. After Jorge Ben took the rocker to court for the song, Stewart agreed to give UNICEF a part of the song’s proceeds. Rod Stewart asserts that he didn’t mean to use Ben’s melodies, and he complied with the legal proceedings entirely. It seems that the tune got stuck in his head, and when it was time to make new music, the “inspiration” for a new song was already there.
2. Johnny Cash
Iconic singer Johnny Cash was sued by Gordon Jenkins for using melodies and lyrics from Jenkins’ song “Crescent City Blues”, in his song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The intro to Cash’s popular song, which starts with “I hear the train a-coming, it’s rolling ‘round the bend” may have been his lyrics, but they were definitely inspired by Gordon Jenkins, according to the courts. Even though Cash changed the premise of the song and will always be known as a legendary songwriter and performer, the beginning lyrics of Cash’s tune were similar enough to Gordon Jenkins’ creation that he had to pay the singer $75,000.
1. John Lennon
John Lennon was sued by Chuck Berry’s publishing company for using lines and melodies that came from Berry’s song, “You Can’t Catch Me”. While it’s hard for musicians not to be influenced by Chuck Berry’s tonal compilations and guitar riffs, you’ve got to give credit where it’s due legally. The melodies from “You Can’t Catch Me” were featured in “Come Together”, one of the most popular hits from The Beatles. Lennon agreed to record three songs as part of the settlement, including a cover of Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” for Lennon’s cover album entitled Rock ‘N’ Roll. Lennon was also contractually obligated to record two other songs owned by Morris Levy to satisfy the settlement terms, which led to a long legal battle between Lennon and Levy.
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