From Shape of You to Blurred Lines: 8 of the biggest cases of music plagiarism

IIn recent years, the music industry has seen a growing trend of very public copyright lawsuits against well-known artists.

Though Ed Sheeran just won his lawsuit over his 2017 hit single “Shape of You,” this isn’t the first time the singer-songwriter has been embroiled in similar cases.

In a statement, after a Supreme Court judge ruled in Sheeran’s favor, he issued a joint statement with songwriting partners Johnny McDaid and Steve Mac, speaking about the toll the lawsuit had taken on his mental health .

“The stress that this causes on all sides is immense,” said the trio. “It affects so many aspects of our everyday lives and the lives of our families and friends. We are not corporations. We are not beings. We are humans. We are songwriters.

“We don’t want to belittle the hurt and pain that anyone has suffered as a result, while at the same time we feel it’s important to acknowledge that we, too, have had our own hurts and life struggles throughout this process.”

Sheeran is just one of many artists who have been accused of infringing on other artists’ copyrights. Here is a list of eight other cases in which artists have faced litigation over plagiarism allegations:

1. Queen and David Bowie vs. Vanilla Ice Cream (1990)

Released in 1989, “Ice Ice Baby” bears a striking resemblance to the 1981 song “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. The intros are so similar it’s hard to tell which song you’re listening to.

It seems Bowie and Queen’s legal representatives felt the same way when they filed a lawsuit against rapper Vanilla Ice (Robert Mathew Van Winkle) in 1990.

Vanilla Ice told an interviewer the plagiarism claim was false because he added a note to the existing bassline melody. “I sampled it from them, but it’s not the same bass line… [there is] this little change. It’s not the same.”

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In the end, the dispute was settled out of court. Vanilla Ice jointly credited Queen and Bowie, paying them around £2.8million. However, this instance of unauthorized sampling leaves Bowie, Queen and “Under Pressure” forever associated with “Ice Ice Baby”.

Sam Smith’s ballad “Stay With Me” won Record of the Year at the 2015 Grammys, but the chorus drew comparisons to a 1989 track by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. A Smith rep said it was “a complete coincidence “.

Petty said of the incident, “All my years of songwriting have shown me that these things can happen. Most of the time you catch it before it comes out the studio door, but in this case it got through. Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.”

The matter was settled privately, with Petty and Lynne listed as co-authors, each with 12.5 percent author credit.

3. New Seekers vs. Oasis (1994)

Perhaps the most unlikely pairing on this list, Oasis came under legal fire for allegedly stealing the 1971 New Seekers’ quaint tune “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”

The 1994 song “Shakermaker” by Liam and Noel Gallagher has opening lines very similar to the original track by the New Seekers, made famous by a Coca-Cola commercial.

The author of ‘I’d Like To Teach the World to Sing’ successfully sued Oasis for £300,000 for unlicensed use of the tune. Noel later joked, “Now we’re all drinking Pepsi.”

4. Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams (2014)

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams apparently blurred the line between inspiration and imitation when they wrote their 2013 hit Blurred Lines. The track was accused of copying the “Feel” of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” in 2014.

While the sheet music looks quite different, the walking bass line, voices in the song, and themes of Gaye’s family transformation have been cited as commonalities.

After a protracted legal battle, Pharrell and Thicke were ordered to pay Gaye’s estate $5 million and award them 50 percent of all future royalties.

This was one of the biggest payouts in music plagiarism history, with critics fearing the decision would set a dangerous precedent for the future of the industry.

5. The Gap Band vs. Mark Ronson (2015-2018)

The retro sound of “Uptown Funk” helped it topping the charts worldwide when it was released in 2014. However, many artists have claimed that Mark Ronson’s hit single with Bruno Mars infringed on the copyright of their own work.

The Gap Band’s names were included in the song’s credits as it bears resemblances to the party classic “Oops! Upside down.”

In TED Talk, Ronson likened his writing style to riffing blues progressions, saying, “If you…copy without making it a copy…it’s an original.”

6. The Rolling Stones vs. The Verve (1997)


The Verve’s 1997 “Bitter Sweet Symphony” is adored by critics and fans alike. However, the 1997 classic also sparked a 20-year legal debacle in one of the most infamous music plagiarism cases of all time.

The Verve sampled a melody from a 1965 Rolling Stones song “The Last Time”. The band was licensed to use a five-note segment from the song in exchange for 50 percent of the royalties. However, Allen Klein, manager of the Rolling Stones, claimed the agreement was void because the band used a larger portion of the song than agreed.

In the end, The Verve gave the Rolling Stones 100 percent of the royalties.

In 2019, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards returned royalties and publishing rights and removed themselves from author credits. Richard Ashcroft of The Verve responded to the win by saying, “Thank you… for acknowledging me as the author of a crappy masterpiece – it will live forever.”

7. Ghost vs. Led Zeppelin

Journalist Michael Skidmore, a trustee of lead singer Randy Wolfe’s estate, filed a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin after noting the similarities between the intros to “Stairway to Heaven” and Spirit’s song “Taurus.” The band have been accused of lifting notes from Spirit’s song, but Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant insisted he had heard the song much later.

Plant is said to have heard “Taurus” at a show in Birmingham in 1970, but said he couldn’t remember the performance due to his involvement in a serious car accident that happened that night.

Musicology professor Lawrence Ferrara testified in defense that the chord progression in the process “has existed for 300 years”.

This was one of the most prosecuted music plagiarism cases in history. Led Zeppelin were deleted in 2016.

8. Marvin Gaye vs. Ed Sheeran (2016 & 2018)

Shortly after the final judgment in the Blurred Lines case, another high-profile music copyright case ensued. Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” spent a year in the UK Top 40, became the first song to be streamed over 500 million times on Spotify, and won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Pop Solo Performance and Song of the year. The artist has been accused of illegally extracting musical components from Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.

The family of Ed Townsend, who wrote the famous Gaye song, filed a lawsuit against Sheeran because “the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic compositions” are similar. The case was dismissed in 2017, but another case ensued when a relative of Gaye sued for $100 million in damages in 2018.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/songs-plagiarism-cases-blurred-lines-b2052287.html From Shape of You to Blurred Lines: 8 of the biggest cases of music plagiarism


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