Name That Tune: Famous Musical Plagiarisms

From the Ghostbusters theme tune to Radiohead and Procul Harum, here are some other high-profile claims of musical plagiarism.

Richard Ashcroft of The Verve lost all royalties for Bittersweet Symphony

Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke are not the first to have to shell out for copyright infringement – music has a long history of songs that sound alike. 

Ice Ice Baby v Under Pressure

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Vanilla Ice was forced to part with a lot of money.

In 1990 it came to light that Vanilla Ice has sampled Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure without consent.

Ice Ice Baby became a number one hit and Vanilla Ice altered the rhythm of the bassline in the belief he could avoid any copyright breaches.

However, he was still forced to settle with Queen and David Bowie out of court when it was clear that he stole the sample without permission.

Stay With Me v I Won’t Back Down 

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Sam Smith said he had never heard Tom Petty’s song.

Sam Smith said it was a “complete accident” that his hit Stay With Me had similarities with Tom Petty‘s melodies in the chorus for I Won’t Back Down.

Smith and his co-writers – James Napier and William Phillips – quietly settled a dispute, accepting the similarities and giving Petty and Jeff Lynne writing credits, along with 12.5% of the royalties from the hit song.

Petty and Lynne are also now listed as co-writers on the track.

The Air That I Breathe v Creep

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Thom Yorke and his Radiohead bandmates were sued.

The credits for Radiohead’s 1992 hit Creep now include Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood who wrote the 1973 ballad The Air That I Breathe.

The pair successfully sued the band for similarities in chords and vocal melodiesThey earned a co-writer credit.

Anybody Seen My Baby v Constant Craving

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The Stones gave kd lang a credit. 

The Rolling Stones gave kd lang a co-writer credit after someone noticed the chorus to the 1997 song Anybody Seen My Baby was similar to her hit Constant Craving.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale v Organist

In October 2009 the House of Lords ruled that the organist who wrote the riff which appears in Procul Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale 40 years earlier was entitled to future royalties.

Matthew Fisher’s tune was added to the song after the band responded to his advert in Melody Maker where he mentioned his rare Hammond organ. The song is also said to be influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach works and Percy Sledge’s When A Man Loves A Woman.

Bittersweet Symphony v The Last Time 

The Verve came unstuck when their 1997 song Bittersweet Symphony became a worldwide hit.

While they had negotiated a licence to use a five-note sample from an orchestral version of the Rolling Stones’ song The Last Time, they were still sued by one of the band’s former managers.

Allen Klein claimed The Verve broke the agreement when they used a larger portion of the music than was covered in the licence. 

The band disputed this but eventually settled out of court and handed over 100% of their royalties, which seemed cheaper to them than fighting it out in court. 

Stairway To Heaven v Taurus 

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In October 2014 a judge denied Led Zeppelin‘s first attempt to defend a lawsuit claiming that Stairway To Heaven was lifted from a song by Spirit called Taurus.

In May 2014 the family of Spirit frontman Randy Craig Wolfe filed a lawsuit asking for damages and a writing credit after claiming Jimmy Page’s band ripped off  chords. 

Led Zeppelin requested that the case was dismissed but this was refused.

I  Want A New Drug v Ghostbusters

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Ghostbusters’ theme tune was nominated for an Oscar. In 1984 Huey Lewis sued the Oscar-nominated writer of the Ghostbusters theme tune Ray Parker Jr on the grounds that the song infringed upon his song I Want A New Drug.

The parties eventually reached a settlement which included a confidentiality agreement. 

Parker Jr sued Lewis in 2001 when he breached that agreement in a documentary.

My Sweet Lord v He’s So Fine 

Former Beatle George Harrison’s 1970 solo song My Sweet Lord had a melody heavy with echoes of He’s So Fine, the 1962 hit from The Chiffons. 

The copyright owner sued Harrison and a judge said that while the tunes were nearly identical, Harrison was guilty only of “subconscious plagiarism”.

He would eventually pay out $587,000.

 

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