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.
1. Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop," vs. Flourgon, "We Run Things"
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."
2. Ed Sheeran, Faith Hill & Tim McGraw, "The Rest of Our Life," vs. Jasmine Rae, "When I Found You"
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.
3. Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" vs. Koyote's "Happy Mode"
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.
4. The Beatles, "Come Together," vs. Chuck Berry, "You Can't Catch Me"
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."
5. Jennifer Lopez, "On the Floor," vs. Kaoma, "Lambada"
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."
6. Rod Stewart, "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" vs. Jorge Ben, "Taj Mahal"
"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.
7. Rod Stewart, "Corrina, Corrina," vs. Chatmon, "Corrine, Corrina"
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."
8. Radiohead, "Creep," vs. Albert Hammond, "The Air That I Breathe"
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.
9. Radiohead, "Creep," vs. Lana Del Rey, "Get Free"
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.
10. Robin Thicke, "Blurred Lines," vs. Marvin Gaye, "Got to Give It Up"
"Blurred Lines" is arguably Robin Thicke's biggest hit to date, but not everyone was totally enamored with the catchy tune (aside from feminists everywhere). The family of late soul singer Marvin Gaye sued Thicke and Pharrell Williams in 2015 for copyright infringement over the Grammy-nominated song, saying it was too similar to Gaye's 1977 hit "Got to Give It Up." Thicke and Williams lost, but then the two appealed, arguing that "a 'groove' or 'feeling' cannot be copyrighted, and inspiration is not copying."
11. Ray Parker Jr., "Ghostbusters Theme," vs. Huey Lewis, "I Want a New Drug"
Who doesn't know the theme song to the Ghostbusters movies? Bet you didn't know, though, that the Oscar-nominated theme song recorded by Ray Parker Jr. was so similar to Huey Lewis' "I Want a New Drug" that Lewis successfully sued Parker. In an interesting turn of events, Parker sued Lewis right back when Lewis broke their confidentiality agreement by discussing the suit on VH1's Behind the Music.
12. Jet, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl," vs. Iggy Pop, "Lust for Life"
Jet fans know that "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" is the band's most successful song. For detractors, however (and even more than a few reticent fans), the track bears uncanny similarities to the 1977 Iggy Pop song "Lust for Life." Jet took a unique tactic in refuting the theory — they claimed they actually ripped off Motown songs like "You Can't Hurry Love" by the Supremes much more.
13. David Guetta, "Play Hard," vs. Alice Deejay, "Better Off Alone"
Here's one of those examples that raises the question, How much sampling is too much sampling? It's kind of a gray area in the world of music plagiarism, so it's hard to know when to make that distinction. For now, David Guetta's 2012 song "Play Hard" featuring Ne-Yo and Akon is considered to have "heavily" sampled the 1998 single "Better Off Alone" by Dutch group Alice DeeJay.
14. Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" vs. Baligh Hamdi's "Khosara Khosara"
"Big Pimpin'" was a big hit for Jay-Z in 1999-2000, even earning the honor of being named one of Rolling Stone's top 500 songs of all time. Unfortunately, the song isn't without its fair share of litigation. Perhaps what makes the song so good is its distinctive underlying hook — a hook that comes from the song "Khosara Khosara," originally written by Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi. The song rights may actually belong to Hamdi's heirs, who claim Jay-Z compromised their moral rights by sampling the song.
In October 2015, Jay-Z won the copyright infringement case.
15. James Blunt, "Heart to Heart," vs. Five for Fighting, "100 Years"
Little has been made of this, as far as we can tell, but it's impossible (for us, at least) to listen to James Blunt's 2013 track "Heart to Heart" without hearing another song: Five for Fighting's 2003 single "100 Years." Although Blunt may have only sampled the melody and riff, it's such a distinctive sound that it casts a pall over "Heart to Heart" that is difficult to overlook. No lawsuit for this one.
16. Bruno Mars, "Treasure," vs. Breakbot, "Baby I'm Yours"
Could Bruno Mars have stolen his hit single "Treasure" from a lesser known musician? If you believe Breakbot (and your ears), then yes, absolutely. In 2012, Mars was put on blast by the musician Breakbot for the fact that "Treasure" sounded an awful lot like Breakbot's "Baby I'm Yours." Truth be told, we can totally hear it. Mars, what say you?
17. Oasis, "Whatever," vs. Neil Innes, "How Sweet to Be an Idiot"
In full disclosure, this kind of seems like a stretch to us. However, since Oasis had a bit of a reputation for oversampling other artists, perhaps the similarities between the band's "Whatever" and Neil Innes' "How Sweet to Be an Idiot" are there and we just aren't hearing them. After all, there had to be some merit to Innes' claim that Oasis lifted his melody, since a lawsuit landed him cowriting credit.
18. Simple Plan, "Your Love Is a Lie," vs. Green Day, "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
Sometimes, you just really love a band. Sometimes, that band inspires you. In the case of Simple Plan's "Your Love Is a Lie," that seems to be exactly what happened. Simple Plan unabashedly admires Green Day, calling the rock group their Ramones. So, when "Your Love Is a Lie" was released in 2007, many people claimed that perhaps Simple Plan's fixation on Green Day led them to copy chord progressions from their idol's 2004 hit "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."
19. Katy Perry, "Roar," vs. Sara Bareilles, "Brave"
The dispute over whether or not Katy Perry's "Roar" was a rip-off of Sara Bareilles' "Brave" might have been a bigger debacle had Bareilles not stepped in to assure the world that she and Perry were friends and that things were all good. Still, you've gotta admit the two do sound (and look) similar.
20. Led Zeppelin, "Stairway to Heaven," vs. Spirit, "Taurus"
Led Zeppelin fans, you may want to avert your eyes. The iconic band is mired in controversy where copyright infringement is concerned. Earlier this year, as they promoted the re-release of their first three albums, the band was hit hard by claims that they lifted the intro for their famous song "Stairway to Heaven" from fellow rock band Spirit's song "Taurus," released three years prior. For Led Zeppelin's part, Jimmy Page told French magazine Liberation that the claims are "ridiculous."
21. Led Zeppelin, "Whole Lotta Love," vs. Muddy Waters, "You Need Love"
Again, if you're a hard-core Zeppelin listener, this might sting a bit. In 1969, when the band recorded their classic hit "Whole Lotta Love," they sampled the sound and even a few lyrics from Muddy Waters' "You Need Love." Only they didn't actually credit Willie Dixon, who wrote the latter. In 1972, Dixon did end up suing Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement and again in 1985 over writing credits. Both were settled out of court for an unknown amount of money, and Dixon successfully earned cowriting credit.
22. Coldplay's "Viva La Vida" vs. Joe Satriani's "If I Could Fly"
Released in 2008, "Viva La Vida" became Coldplay's first No. 1 single in both the United States and the UK. The band even went on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year for it in 2009. So, it's understandable that instrumental guitarist Joe Satriani felt a bit miffed when he realized "Viva La Vida" contained "substantial original portions" of his 2004 release "If I Could Fly." Coldplay maintained it was entirely coincidental, although they did eventually settle with Satriani out of court.
23. Avril Lavigne, "Girlfriend," vs. The Rubinoos, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend"
In 2007, Avril Lavigne had a catchy little hit on her hands with her single "Girlfriend." She was likely caught off guard, then, when '70s pop group the Rubinoos filed suit against her for infringing on their classic song "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Her manager (and presumably Lavigne as well) adamantly refuted the claim, but ultimately they reached an undisclosed settlement with the group.
24. One Direction, "Live While We're Young," vs. The Clash, "Should I Stay or Should I Go"
In 2012, pop sensation One Direction released the single "Live While We're Young." Naturally, teenybopper fans the world over rejoiced. However, critics panned the track for lifting the opening riff from the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go." Responding to the backlash, band member Harry Styles told the BBC, "It was kind of on purpose though. It's a great riff." Louis Tomlinson added, "I assume it must be quite difficult to do a unique riff now because there have been so many songs — surely there's only so many riffs you can pull out?" So, yes. They're saying yes, they did lift it.
25. Justin Bieber, "Baby," vs. Perla, "Tremendo Vacilão"
There's this sweet little Brazilian pop singer named Perla. Oh, you haven't heard of her? You may not recognize her name, but you've heard her — via Justin Bieber's mega-hit "Baby." Just take a listen, paying special attention at the 30-second mark in her song. With his penchant for trouble, Bieber plagiarizing wouldn't exactly be a shocker, sadly.
26. The Doors, "Hello, I Love You," vs. The Kinks, "All Day and All of the Night"
Even though this case did end in litigation and the UK courts ordered the Doors to pay royalties to the Kinks' songwriters for borrowing their riff, it didn't necessarily end on bad terms. In 2012, Kinks band member Ray Davies told Mojo magazine, "The funniest thing was when my publisher came to me on tour and said the Doors had used the riff for 'All Day and All of the Night' for 'Hello, I Love You.' I said rather than sue them, can we just get them to own up? My publisher said, 'They have, that's why we should sue them!'" Davis laughed.
27. Will.i.am, "Let's Go," vs. DJ Arty & Mat Zo, "Rebound"
Not only did Will.i.am plagiarize DJ Arty & Mat Zo's "Rebound" for his track "Let's Go," he outright admitted it. In a radio interview, Will.i.am responded to the rumors he had plagiarized the beat, saying "something happened" with the clearance. He allegedly worked out a deal with the DJs after the fact.
28. Katy Perry, "Dark Horse," vs. Flame ft. Lecrae, "Joyful Noise"
Repeat offender alert! This one's a bit of a mind-boggler. In 2008, the Christian rap group Flame joined forces with rapper Lecrae and John Reilly to create the Christian rap track "Joyful Noise." In 2014, at the height of popularity for Katy Perry's new hit "Dark Horse," the group filed a copyright infringement lawsuit saying she lifted from their track. Oh, and did we mention they said their song was "irreparably tarnished by its association with the witchcraft, paganism, black magic and Illuminati imagery evoked by the same music in 'Dark Horse'"? So, there's that.
One year later, Flame addressed the lawsuit to the Christian Post, saying, "Everything has been worked out amicably with patience and kindness, so people who are peering in should just know that."
29. Nirvana, "Come as You Are," vs. Killing Joke, "Eighties"
There's an old expression that says if you have to ask the question, you probably already know the answer. Well, in 1992, when Kurt Cobain was nervous about releasing the track "Come as You Are" out of fear that it sounded too much like the Killing Joke song "Eighties," he should've trusted his gut.
The 2000 book Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day-By-Day Chronicle, written by the band's manager at the time, Danny Goldberg, has more: "We met to discuss what [Nevermind's] second single would be. We couldn't decide between 'Come as You Are' and 'In Bloom.' Kurt was nervous about 'Come as You Are' because it was too similar to a Killing Joke song ['Eighties'], but we all thought it was still the better song to go with. And, he was right, Killing Joke later did complain about it."
Killing Joke opted not to file a copyright infringement lawsuit for personal and financial reasons, according to Rolling Stone.
30. Skillet, "Monster," vs. Three Days Grace, "Animal I Have Become"
Skillet isn't some hack band — this Christian rock group has been around since 1996, released eight albums, received two Grammy nominations and landed on the Billboard 200 chart. But it was a bit of a hack move in 2009 when they released "Monster," a song nearly identical in lyric and melody to Three Days Grace's 2006 hit "Animal I Have Become." Does "thou shalt not steal" ring any bells?
31. The Beach Boys, "Surfin' U.S.A.," vs. Chuck Berry, "Sweet Little Sixteen"
Poor Chuck Berry — people just can't help sampling his songs. The Beach Boys weren't exactly discreet about it, either. Their iconic hit "Surfin' U.S.A." clearly replicated the sound of Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen."
"I just took 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and rewrote it into something of our own," Brian Wilson told the Los Angeles Times in 2015.
According to Mental Floss, the Beach Boys' manager gave Berry the copyright to the tune, to avoid a lawsuit. However, he didn't tell any of the band members that Berry had been receiving royalties all this time.
32. Jay-Z & Kanye West ft. Frank Ocean, "Made in America," vs. Joel McDonald, "Made in America"
Kanye West and Frank Ocean were named along with Hova for allegedly plagiarizing New York musician Joel McDonald's track "Made in America." You likely won't recognize McDonald's, but you probably know Jay-Z's hit by the same name.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014, and, ultimately, Jay-Z, West and Ocean won the copyright infringement case in 2016. "We have considered all of McDonald’s arguments and find them to be without merit," the court ruled.
33. Eminem, "Rap God," vs. Hot Stylz, "Lookin' Boy"
If you ask MC Raymond Jones — a rapper from the group Hot Stylz — Eminem is making good on the "shady" part of his alter ego, Slim Shady. According to the whopping $8 million lawsuit filed in January 2015, Jones alleges that Eminem sampled Jones' song "Lookin' Boy" without consent. Need proof, Jones asks? He says if you listen closely to Eminem's "Rap God" mid-track, you'll hear a 25-second sample of his song.
According to reports, Eminem and Jones reached a settlement in January 2016.
34. Jay-Z & Beyoncé, "Drunk in Love," vs. Mitsou, "Bajba, Bajba Pelem"
In December 2014, Complex announced that a Hungarian folk singer who goes by Mitsou sued Jay-Z and Beyoncé over their song "Drunk in Love." In the suit, Mitsou claims the power couple lifted vocals from her 1995 song "Bajba, Bajba Pelem" (we couldn't find that exact song online, but above is a similar song with vocals by Mitsou).
One year later, in December 2015, Mitsou lost her case. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Kern wrote, "It is undisputed that the 'Drunk in Love' song and video are works of artistic expression and, pursuant to well-established law, they are therefore exempted from the Civil Rights Law."
35. Demi Lovato, "Stars," vs. Sleigh Bells, "Infinity Guitars"
Demi Lovato's song "Stars" was received pretty favorably when it dropped in 2015 with her fifth studio album, Confident, but not everyone is — dare we go there? — starry-eyed over the single. In a copyright infringement suit filed in April 2016, pop duo Sleigh Bells alleged that Lovato basically lifted their critically acclaimed 2010 hit "Infinity Guitars." The suit claims, specifically, that there is "virtually identical content" in the songs, specifically "the combination of the hand claps and bass drum, structured as 3 quarter beats and a rest." Sleigh Bells is apparently hoping to see some profits from the suit and would like the song to see restricted airplay, but litigation is currently ongoing.
The two parties reached a settlement one year later, in April 2017.