Nearly every song is inspired by something before it, but a little too much inspiration can end you up in court.
Accusations of plagiarism and copyright infringement lawsuits are nothing new in music, with some major artists fighting a legal battle while others settle out of court.
But not every song that sounds like another goes to court.
Here are 26 examples of songs that sound similar, including some that have faced lawsuits:
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and The Gap Band’s “Oops Upside Your Head”
Though influenced by numerous funk songs from the ’70s and ’80s, “Uptown Funk” had to add additional writer credits after The Gap Band filed a copyright claim. The band now earns a 17 per cent share of the publishing royalties.
The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was listed as the sole writer of “Surfin’ USA” when it was released in 1963. Chuck Berry was later given writing credit and publishing royalties after pressure from his publisher.
The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” and The Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night”
The Doors were ordered by a UK court to pay royalties to The Kinks for using a similar riff from “All Day and All of the Night” in “Hello, I Love You.”
Ray Davies of The Kinks told Rolling Stone that he didn’t want to sue, so they reached a deal.
Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”
Similar riffs made people point out the closeness of the two songs, even though they were in different keys. Nirvana poked funat the comparisons during a 1992 show in Reading, England, by singing the chorus of “More Than a Feeling” before breaking into “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly”
A similar guitar riff in the chorus of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” caused people to say that Randy Bachman copied The Who, but The Who’s Pete Townshend was unfazed by the likeness.
In 2013, fans also noticed similarities between One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” and “Baba O’Reilly.” The reaction of 1D fans resulted in Townshend releasing a statement that included a reference to Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
“The funniest thing is that in Canada this year I met with Randy Bachman, once the leader of The Guess Who, who told me that he not only copied ‘Baba O’Riley’ for [Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s] hit ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,’ but he even called his band after us. Why would I not be happy about this kind of tribute?” he said.
Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” and Jake Holmes’ “Dazed and Confused”
Led Zeppelin has been involved in numerous copyright infringement cases. Jake Holmes sued Led Zeppelin in 2010 over his own “Dazed and Confused,” a song he had written and recorded two years before Led Zeppelin released their version. Holmes had opened for The Yardbirds in 1967, which featured Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. The case was settled out of court.
Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Muddy Waters’ “You Need Love”
Another lawsuit Led Zeppelin faced was against their 1969 hit “Whole Lotta Love.” Willie Dixon sued the band for copyright infringement of his song “You Need Love,” which was recorded by Muddy Waters. The case was settled out of court and writing credit was given to Dixon.
But even before that, Dixon had sued in 1972 for another song he wrote. Dixon alleged that Led Zeppelin’s “Bring It on Home” took from “Bring It on Home” by Sonny Boy Williamson. It was also settled out of court and Dixon received writing credit.
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Spirit’s “Taurus”
Led Zeppelin found itself with more litigation when Spirit bassist Mark Andes filed a suit against “Stairway to Heaven.” The case went to trial in 2016, but a jury found that the similarities were not copyright infringement. The verdict was appealed in March 2017.
John Fogerty’s “The Old Man Down the Road” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle”
In a bizarre case, John Fogerty, the lead singer of Creedence Clearwater Revival, was accused of plagiarizing himself. After the band disbanded, Fogerty pursued a solo career and released “The Old Man Down the Road.”
Fantasy Records, which owned the publishing rights to the band’s songs, tried to sue Fogerty for copyright infringement alleging that “Old Man” had the same chorus as “Run Through the Jungle.” A jury ruled that Fogerty did not infringe upon himself.
Radiohead’s “Creep” and The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe”
Songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood successfully sued Radiohead for infringement.They are both listed as co-writers and split royalties with the band.
The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony” and The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time”
For their hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” The Verve sampled a symphonic recording of The Stones’ “The Last Time.” According to The Stones’ manager Allen Klein, they had only originally agreed to licence a five-note portion but exceeded the usage, thus voiding their agreement. Settling out of court, song credit went to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and The Verve lost all royalties.
Lana Del Rey’s “Get Free” and Radiohead’s “Creep”
Lana del Rey took to Twitter to claim that Radiohead was suing her and that the lawyers were “relentless.”
According to NME, Radiohead’s publishers denied any lawsuit and just said that the group wanted writing credit.
“To set the record straight, no lawsuit has been issued and Radiohead have not said they ‘will only accept 100%’ of the publishing of ‘Get Free,'” a statement read.
During a performance at Lollapalooza Brazil in March, the singer said the lawsuit was over.
Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” and Matt Cardle’s “Amazing”
Songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard accused Sheeran of copying the song “Amazing,” which was sung by Matt Cardle. Their $US20 million copyright lawsuit alleged that Sheeran was guilty of “verbatim, note-for-note copying.” The case was privately settled.
Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s “The Rest of Our Life” and Jasmine Rae’s “When I Found You”
Sean Carey and Beau Golden, who wrote Rae’s song, filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Hill and McGraw. Sheeran, who helped write the song, was also named. According to TMZ, Sheeran called the accusations “baseless.”
Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and Flourgon’s “We Run Things”
Cyrus was slapped with a $US300 million copyright infringement lawsuit in March 2018 over her 2013 song “We Can’t Stop.” Jamaican songwriter Michael May, whose stage name is Flourgon,claims her song took “about 50 per cent” from his song. He also wants to stop future sales and performances of the song.
Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”
Tom Petty’s publishers contacted Smith after hearing similarities between the two songs, particularly during the chorus. They reached an out-of-court agreement to list Petty and Jeff Lynne as co-writers on the song.
Petty released a statement, saying, “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen… Sam’s people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement.”
Jon Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” and Bonnie Tyler’s “If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man)”
Desmond Child, who wrote Bonnie Tyler’s song, wasn’t pleased with how it performed on the charts and wanted to prove that the song could be a hit. After teaming up with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, the three reworked Tyler’s song into Bon Jovi’s first No. 1 hit.
Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up”
A jury found Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke liable for copyright infringement, and they had to pay the Gaye family $US7.4 million in damages. Williams and Thicke appealed the case in 2016, but the court sided with the Gaye family once again in 2018. The appeal confirmed that Gaye’s estate is entitled to 50% of all royalties from the song forever.
Kendrick Lamar’s “I Do This” and Bill Withers’ “Don’t You Want to Stay”
In April 2016, Lamar was sued for using a “direct and complete” copy of Bill Withers’ 1975 song as a sample. The case was filed in the same court that determined the outcome of the “Blurred Lines” trial.
“The musical composition ‘I Do This’ consists of nothing more than new, so-called Rap or Hip Hop lyrics, set to the existing music of ‘Don’t Want You to Stay,'” read the suit filed by Mattie Music Group.
Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and Joe Satriani’s “If I Could Fly”
Guitarist Joe Satriani filed a lawsuit against Coldplay for copying “substantial original portions” of his 2004 song in 2008. But less than a year later, the case was ultimately dismissed and reportedly settled.
George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” and The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine”
In one of the most notorious copyright infringement cases, George Harrison’s first solo single resulted in a guilty verdict for “subconscious plagiarism.” The judge wrote that he didn’t believe Harrison deliberately copied the music, but because he had access to it, he was guilty.
Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”
Vanilla Ice famously took the bass line from “Under Pressure,” a collaboration between Queen and David Bowie. When threatened with a suit, Vanilla Ice settled out of court. Bowie and Queen all got songwriting credits.
Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” and Jorge Ben Jor’s “Taj Mahal”
Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Rod Stewart. Ben Jor has said the lawsuit was settled out of court and in his favour. Stewart later admitted to “unconscious plagiarism” of the song in his 2012 autobiography.
Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” theme and Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Want a New Drug”
Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker Jr. for copyright infringement after the “Ghostbusters” theme was released. They reached an agreement in 1995. But in 2001, Parker sued Lewis for breaking a confidentiality agreement. They weren’t supposed to reveal information about the case after filing a joint press release in 1995, but Lewis commented on the case during an interview on VH1’s “Behind the Music.”
Bill Haley & His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” and Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over”
Made famous by Bill Haley, “Rock Around the Clock” is considered to be one of the songs that made rock and roll popular in the 1950s, but some think it bears a striking resemblance to Hank Williams’ “Move It on Over” from the 1940s. But even Williams’ song borrowed from Charley Patton’s 1929 recording of “Going to Move to Alabama.”
2 Live Crew’s “Pretty Woman” and Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman”
2 Live Crew released a parody of Orbison’s song and were sued for it. The case made it to the Supreme Court where it ruled in 2 Live Crew’s favour as “fair use.”
Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”
TMZ reported in June 2018 that Ed Sheeran is facing a $US100 million lawsuit alleging he copied Gaye’s “Let’s Get It Out.” It was filed byStructured Asset Sales, a company that owns one-third of the copyright to “Let’s Get It On.” Sheeran was sued back in 2016 over the same song by co-writer Ed Townsend.
On Thursday, January 3, US District Judge Louis Stanton said there were “substantial similarities” between Sheeran’s and Gaye’s song and determined that the case should go to a jury. A New York jury will later decide the case.
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