The Strange, Stupid History of Pop Music Plagiarism
Plagiarism in music is a weird concoction of money, pride and misinterpretation. We all know that nobody has written an original rock song since 1953, and the entire music industry is founded on the principle of exchanging blurry photocopies of other people's work. But that certainly doesn't stop artists from realizing a cash opportunity when they see it. Case in point: Tame Impala, an Australian psych band currently fielding accusations that their song "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" rips off Argentinian singer Pablo Ruiz's "Océano," which we can almost be sure is a song that Tame Impala have never, ever heard. It doesn't matter, money talks, and the band will inevitably get sued and be tied up in courts for years to come.
So we decided to look back on some of the more interesting cases of music plagiarism. Who among our favorite artists decided to ingloriously steal (or take inspiration from, depends on your definition,) from others? Can we learn anything, or is this just a never-ending cat fight of litigation and tears? The answer is more obvious than you'd expect.
8. Coldplay - "Viva La Vida"
The Case: Do you hate Coldplay? Of course you do! Do you hate Coldplay as much as Joe Satriani? That's a tough one, isn't it? Satriani claimed that those watery pipes of synth on "Viva la Vida" were directly taken from his winding guitar melodrama "If I Could Fly." If you have been accused of stealing music from Joe Satriani, that should cause you to rethink your entire songwriting philosophy.
What Happened: Nothing, really. The case was thrown out after both parties potentially agreed to a settlement. It's a weird world we live in: somewhere in America, Joe Satriani is spending Chris Martin's money.
7. Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines"
The Case: Perhaps you remember this one? Robin Thicke makes absurdly popular pop song, which graciously borrows from a classic Marvin Gaye banger from years past. The Gaye Estate see this as stealing more than tribute, and begin to launch legal proceedings directly at EMI. Robin Thicke throws his hands up and says something to the effect of "Hey man! Can't we all just get along?"
What Happened: This case is still tied up in court, but we absolutely guarantee it ends with Robin Thicke giving a lot of money to Marvin Gaye's kids.
6. Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love"
The Case: Most Led Zeppelin riffs are borrowed from some unearthed blues records, repurposed for much louder, much more profitable purposes. But when one of your most popular songs ever lifts lyrics from a Willie Dixon song, well, people will start to notice. Especially when yours is called "Whole Lotta Love," and his is "You Need Love"
What Happened: In what has become something of a tradition for Led Zeppelin, they settled outside of court with Dixon's camp and added him as a co-writer. Seriously, go look at the inside insert of your latest Zeppelin reissue, and you'll see a lot of names you don't recognize.
5. Avril Lavigne - "Girlfriend"
The Case: Avril Lavigne writes a song called "Girlfriend," clearly meant to homage a power-pop song called "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Unfortunately, no clearance was officially given, and when you copy music this ferociously without officially sampling, a bunch of has-beens like the Rubinoos smell blood in the water.
What Happened: Avril Lavigne married Chad Kroeger, but not before paying out an undisclosed settlement to a bunch of old men with layers.
4. Johnny Cash - "Folsom Prison Blues"
The Case: Even Johnny Cash, a man whose authenticity is central to his entire mystique, ran into some plagiarism trouble during his career. In fact, he lifted perhaps his most famous song nearly word-for-word from the forgotten Gordon Jenkins ballad "Crescent City Blues."
What Happened: Cash probably looked at his song as a parody, but that didn't matter, he still settled out of court at the sum of $75,000, which we imagine was a lot more expensive in 1955 dollars.
3. Radiohead - "Creep"
The Case: Ah Radiohead, the most iconic and original rock band of the century, untarnished by any controversy, forever heralded as the innovators they are. Oh yeah, they also blatantly copied some ancient '70s guitar rock on their first (and still most popular) single "Creep." Whoops. Needless to say, The Hollies were none too pleased when they heard their dulcet, slinky melody repurposed for a song about self-loathing.
What Happened: Radiohead would go on to make much better, much more original music, and Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood of the Hollies will forever be credited as songwriters on "Creep."
2. The Verve - "Bitter Sweet Symphony"
The Case: In perhaps the biggest jobbing in history, The Verve played a Rolling Stones song backwards to discover one of the most all-encompassing pop songs of all time. They used this momentum to capture international fame and acclaim, right before The Rolling Stones, a band with a lot of money, decided to step in with "Hey! That's "The Last Time!" Technically, they were right.
What Happened: Every time a movie uses "Bitter Sweet Symphony," (which is a lot,) Mick Jagger and Keith Richards make some money. Does that make you angry? Well it should.
1. OneDirection - "Midnight Memories"
The Case: This is a lot more debatable than it has any right to be. OneDirection put out a song called "Midnight Memories," which features the same massive guitar crunch as a much older, much more lascivious song called "Pour Some Sugar on Me." OneDirection is apparently looking to smutty '80s cock-metal for inspiration now.
What Happened: Nothing yet, but apparently the still-touring boys of Def Leppard are "considering legal action."
• BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.