Creativity spawns creativity, as they say. But sometimes the line between influence and plain robbery gets a little blurred. Here are 11 similar-sounding songs that were subject to plagiarism claims after their creators allegedly stepped on the wrong side of this mark…
THE SONG: Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams – TI, ’Blurred Lines’
THE ACCUSATION: Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams came under fire from Marvin Gaye’s family for plagiarism, after Thicke said in interviews that he had drawn on the feel of Gaye’s 1977 single ‘Got To Give It Up’.
THE OUTCOME: The courts ruled in favour of Gaye’s family, and Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $4m damages and $3.4m in profits from the alleged copyright infringement – so, in total, that’s about £4.8m. “[The decision] sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” said the pair’s lawyer.
THE SONG: Tame Impala – ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’
THE ACCUSATION: In 2014, Chilean music site Rata published an article claiming Tame Impala had ripped off Pablo Ruiz’s cheesy 1989 track ‘Oceano’ – which either meant Kevin Parker was into obscure pop from the other side of the world, or had been doing some serious, serious crate-digging.
THE OUTCOME: Rata revealed that they had been joking, but by that time Ruiz had already put his foot in it by saying he might be speaking to his lawyer. Parker responded to the story, saying: “This is a joke, right?”. There’s not been a lawsuit.
THE SONG: Vanilla Ice – ‘Ice Ice Baby’
THE ACCUSATION: Not so much an accusation as a fact – Vanilla Ice sampled Queen and David Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’ without asking for their permission. And that’s called plagiarism.
THE OUTCOME: Ice settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, showing that although he may be a bit of a chancer, he’s not criminally insane.
THE SONG: Avril Lavigne – ‘Girlfriend’
THE ACCUSATION: Twofold: those bratty ‘Hey’ chants were too like Toni Basil’s 1982 annoyer ‘Mickey’ for the internet’s liking, but The Rubinoos actually filed a lawsuit because lyrically ‘Girlfriend’ was very similar to their song ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’.
THE OUTCOME: Lavigne settled out of court with her accusers, and The Rubinoos experienced something of a resurgence in popularity as a result of the media attention.
THE SONG: Rod Stewart – ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’
THE ACCUSATION: The main question on Brazilian artist Jorge Ben Jor’s lips in 1978 wasn’t whether Rod Stewart was sexy but whether he was ripping him off. Jor claimed that the saucy song stole bits of his own track ‘Taj Mahal’.
THE OUTCOME: Despite settling out of court, Stewart later admitted “unconscious plagiarism”.
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THE SONG: George Harrison, ‘My Sweet Lord’
THE ACCUSATION: George Harrison? Lovely, sweet-natured George? It’s hard to believe he could pull a fast one over another artist, but in 1976 the former Beatle was accused of plagiarising The Chiffons’ 1963 hit ‘He’s So Fine’.
THE OUTCOME: The eventual verdict was “subconscious plagiarising” – meaning that Harrison didn’t intentionally do anything bad. Phew. Still had to pay $1.6m in damages, though.
THE SONG: Coldplay – ‘Viva La Vida’
THE ACCUSATION: Creaky Boards compared their song ‘The Songs I Didn’t Write’ to Coldplay’s sports-soundtracking favourite ‘Viva La Vida’, in mid-2008, saying Coldplay had heard it at one of their October 2007 gigs. Later that year, Joe Satriani claimed it had ripped off his 2004 instrumental ‘If I Could Fly’.
THE OUTCOME: Chris Martin had an alibi for the Creaky Boards gig, and produced a demo of ‘Viva La Vida’ from February 2007, so Creaky Boards retracted the allegation and said both bands must have been inspired by The Legend of Zelda. As for Satriani’s case, it was dismissed by the court.
THE SONG: The Beatles – ‘Come Together’
THE ACCUSATION: Only The Beatles would have so much power that, as a forfeit for nicking part of a song, they had to cover more of that person’s songs.
THE OUTCOME: That’s right – when ‘Come Together’ was found to have borrowed heavily from Chuck Berry’s ‘You Can’t Catch Me’ – even changing the lyric from “Here come a flattop, he was movin’ up with me” to “Here come ol’ flattop, he come groovin’ up slowly” – copyright owner Morris Levy settled out of court, making John Lennon agree to record three more of his songs to get the royalties by way of penance. Clever.
THE SONG: Led Zeppelin – ‘Whole Lotta Love’
THE ACCUSATION: Led Zeppelin were accused in 1985 of stealing Willie Dixon’s song ‘You Need Love’, which he’d written for Muddy Waters.
THE OUTCOME: Robert Plant admitted, “I just thought, ‘Well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for.” The pair reached an agreement and settled out of court.
THE SONG: One Direction – ‘Steal My Girl’
THE ACCUSATION: No formal accusations have been made against One Direction’s songwriting teams, but ‘Steal My Girl’ was accused of pilfering from Newfound Glory’s ‘It’s Not Your Fault’ and ‘Live While We’re Young’ from The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’.
THE OUTCOME: Nothing. Harry Styles has admitted the similarities between ‘Live While We’re Young’ and The Clash hit were “kind of on purpose,” while Julian Bunetta, who co-wrote Steal My Girl, said: “At the end of the day, the lyric and the melody have nothing to do with any other song that I have ever heard.”