Pop music plagiarism's worst offenses: A history

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Epic Records

Nobody has written an original rock song since 1953, and the entire music industry is founded on exchanging blurry photocopies of other people's work. Sure, some art is outright plagiarism, but even when it's in a gray area, it's an opportunity for cash. Case in point: Australian psych band Tame Impala is currently fielding accusations that their song "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" rips off Argentinian singer Pablo Ruiz's "Océano." This is a song that Tame Impala have likely never, ever heard. We'll see if their lawyer can make that case.

Over the years, music plagiarism accusations have hit some of pop music's most popular artists. Here are eight of the highest-profile cases.


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. 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 made an absurdly popular pop song, which graciously borrowed from a classic Marvin Gaye banger from years past. The Gaye Estate saw this as stealing more than a tribute, and began to launch legal proceedings directly at EMI. Robin Thicke threw his hands up and said 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 it likely 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, and re-purposed for much louder, much more profitable ends. 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 and Dr. Luke wrote a song called "Girlfriend," clearly meant as an 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 lawyers.


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28 comments
Hunter Warne
Hunter Warne

Kurt Vatland The difference is Diddy and Kid both pay major $$$ to legally use others music.

Michael Schuffenhauer
Michael Schuffenhauer

If james Brown had a Dollar everytime some Hip hop/Rapper sampled one of his songs! He would have been a Billionaire!

Tammy Belka
Tammy Belka

Elvis Love Me Tender = Aura Lee (public domain)

Dennis Engel
Dennis Engel

It's a slippery slope. How can one write a song without it sounding like one of the preceding million?

Michael Fleming
Michael Fleming

How could this article not even mention George Harrison being sued for My Sweet Lord by the owners of He's So Fine? It's the most famous pop music plagiarism case of all time and pretty much set the legal standard of what it takes to make a case for infringing a pop song...

Dave Lamberton
Dave Lamberton

What about The Black Keys', "Gotta Get Away" and Aerosmith's, "No More, No More"? Art is derivative, but that example is blatant.

MNjoe
MNjoe topcommenter

...and Elastica ripping off Wire's 'Three Girl Rhumba' for their song 'Connection'.

Todd Beeson
Todd Beeson

How about The Jayhawks "Waiting for the Sun"...then came Tom Petty's "Last Dance w/ Mary Jane" which then morphed into RHCP "Dani California" I believe Rick Rubin may have had a hand in all 3 at some point. But could be wrong.

David Hlavac
David Hlavac

Avril's "music" sucks, but she is still hott

voobah
voobah

Steve Miller's "Rock N Me" is a rip from "All Right Now" by Free, "Jet Airliner" pilfers Clapton's riff from Cream's "Crossroads", and "Nobody Loves You Like The Way I Do" is little more than Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way".

Dan Lenzmeier
Dan Lenzmeier

Hammond and Hazlewood weren't "of the Hollies".

Mike Geronsin
Mike Geronsin

I don't hate Coldplay and Radiohead also did a bit of Sexy Sadie copying on Karma Police.

Drizzay
Drizzay

Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" ripped off Pink Floyd's "Echoes".  What a hack.

Jonathan Dueck
Jonathan Dueck

And if you slow down Tom Petty's "Won't Break Down", it becomes Sam Smith's" Stay With Me".

ron.neuman
ron.neuman

John Fogerty has a couple of songs that sound an awful lot alike , he changes lyrics is about all  , is that plagiaism at all ?

Courtney Klos
Courtney Klos

Even the most recent pop tunes borrows heavily from pop tunes that came out only a year earlier! For example: Demi Lovato's "Really Don't Care" vs. Icona Pop's "I Love It"

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