Music plagiarism is a tricky situation. Whether by accident or not, songs will inevitably sound like others. Artists are influenced by other artists, after all. But when do we accuse artists of straight-up plagiarizing?
Maybe you'll hear a chord progression that reminds you of another song. Or maybe an artist has intentionally sampled another and given credit where credit's due. But when it becomes more than a vague similarity or simply sampling that things get messy — and copyright infringement lawsuits get involved.
It's happened to virtually everyone too, from the Beatles to Jay-Z. Let's take a look at 35 songs accused of being plagiarized.
In March 2018, Jamaican reggae musician Michael May, who performs under the name Flourgon, filed a lawsuit claiming Miley Cyrus' hit song "We Can't Stop" substantially pulls from his 1988 song "We Run Things." According to NME, May's lawyers claim Cyrus "substantially incorporated" his "'vocal melody/rhythm/cadence/inflection," pointing to a "substantially similar hook," namely Cyrus' hook "We run things. Things don’t run we," as compared to May's lyrics, "We run things. Things no run we."
In January 2018, Australian country music star Jasmine Rae filed a lawsuit against Ed Sheeran. Rae claimed that Sheeran's song "The Rest of Our Life," which he wrote for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, was "almost note for note copy" of her song "When I Found You." The suit is still ongoing.
You might remember Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" becoming a smash hit in 2014, making its way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for eight weeks. But did you know Trainor was accused of lifting the melody from a 2006 song called "Happy Mode" by the South Korean pop band Koyote? The songwriter, Joo Young-hoon, tweeted that he was consulting with a specialized lawyer. Ultimately, Trainor was not hit with a lawsuit.
They're the Beatles. Why would they need to steal from anyone, right? Wrong, apparently. Influential rock musician Chuck Berry sued John Lennon in 1973 under the premise that the Beatles' hit "Come Together" borrowed both lines and melodies from Berry's song "You Can't Catch Me."
Well, this is tricky. It's quite clear that J.Lo's "On the Floor" sounds similar to the song "Lambada" by French pop group Kaoma. But honestly, the song has been covered so many times (17 or so, by our count) that it's hard to distinguish what got the green light and what didn't. However, "On the Floor" has also been accused of borrowing from Hispanic singer Kat DeLuna's 2010 single "Party O'Clock" and Romanian musician Edward Maya's 2009 club hit "Stereo Love."
"Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" is arguably Rod Stewart's most recognized song, so it's a shame he borrowed a pretty significant part of it from musician Jorge Ben's 1976 song "Taj Mahal." Stewart admitted the hook was the same, although he asserted it was simply a matter of "unconscious plagiarism." As part of the settlement, he agreed to donate a portion of his song's proceeds to UNICEF.
That wasn't the end of Stewart's plagiarism accusations. The heirs of blues singer Armenter "Bo Carter" Chatmon sued Stewart claimed that the bonus track "Corrina, Corrina" on Stewart's 2013 album Time plagiarizes Chatmon's "Corrine, Corrina," written in 1928. The claimants said the two songs are "nearly identical." According to the suit, Stewart "had access to the Carter songs at the time they recorded and produced the infringing Song due to the Carter song's popularity and fame as well as its prominent publication since at least 1929."
We all know and love Radiohead's classic '90s anthem "Creep," right? Would you be surprised to learn Thom Yorke was taken to court over it? Although Yorke admitted at the time that he was inspired by the Hollies' 1973 song "The Air I Breathe," he didn't outright give them credit for just how inspired he was by their tune. When the Hollies filed suit, Radiohead was ordered to give them cowriting credit in the liner notes of the Radiohead album Pablo Honey. Hammond and Mike Hazlewood also now split royalties with Radiohead.
In July 2017, Lana Del Rey released the album entitled Lust for Life, and quickly after its release, comparisons were made between the track "Get Free" and Radiohead's "Creep." Rey tweeted that the band was suing her, but then Radiohead’s publishers denied that they were pressing charges. Instead, they asked for Radiohead to be credited on the song.
A version of this article was originally published in September 2014.
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