Poetry or Piracy: Artists That Were Accused of Stealing Music
Written by Rebecca Aslanis on April 23, 2019
Do you ever hear a new song but as you are listening to it, it starts to remind you of another song? Many singer/songwriters are accused of stealing other artists’ songs, and this happens more than you think it does. New or old this has been happening for many many years now. From The Beatles to Taylor Swift, it’s hard write a new song that is unique when there are already ninety-seven million songs that are out there. The songs listed are some of the ones that have been called out for stealing.
“Come Together” by The Beatles vs. “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry
We all know one of the more famous Beatles songs, “Come Together” but most of us don’t know what happened behind the scenes after it was released on the most famous Beatles album, Abbey Road. John Lennon who wrote and sang the song was hit with a lawsuit against him for stealing Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” written for the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock. John Lennon stated years before that he was influenced by the song so they eventually took him to court because of it. In attempt to avoid the case against him, Lennon agreed to write three songs that would be owned by Morris Levy, who was the owner of the rights to Chuck Berry’s song. Even though the case wasn’t closed until years later, Lennon counter-sued Levy for the unauthorized release of an LP that Lennon wrote that Levy did not own the rights to.
“7 Rings” by Ariana Grande vs. Soulja Boy, 2 Chainz, and Princess Nokia
Moving to something newer and although there were no lawsuits or legal actions, there was a massive debate as well as much controversy over Ariana Grande’s song, “7 Rings”. First up was Princess Nokia, she was the first to accuse Grande for copying her lyrics from her song “Mine”. She posted a video of her playing the two songs with the lyrics of Grande’s song saying:
“You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it
I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (Yeah)
I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it
I want it, I got it, I want it, I got it
You like my hair? Gee, thanks, just bought it
I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it (Yeah)”
While Nokia’s song lyrics go:
“Rock my many styles then go natural for the summer
Hair blowing in the hummer
Flip the weave, I am a stunner
It’s mine, I bought it
It’s mine, I bought it
It’s mine, I bought it”
Then at the very end of the video she says “Ain’t that the little song I made about brown women and their hair…sounds about white.” This is where the controversy comes into play. There were many tweets about the whole situation on Twitter. With tweets calling her out for many different reasons, it seemed that she chose to ignore them and continued to thank and promote her music. Following this accusation, Soulja Boy and 2 Chainz proceeded to accuse Grande of stealing the beats in their songs. Soulja Boy’s “Pretty Boy Swag” was released in 2010 and accused her for stealing his beat, while 2 Chainz accused her for stealing his pink trap house aesthetic which she had in her music video for her song but as well as his beat from the song “Spend It”. While all three songs sound similar, nothing will beat the comparison to “My Favorite Things” from the 1965 musical Sound of Music. Even her first verse has the title of the song from the musical in it:
“Yeah, breakfast at Tiffany’s and bottles of bubbles
Girls with tattoos who like getting in trouble
Lashes and diamonds, ATM machines
Buy myself all of my favorite things”
“Sorry” by Justin Bieber vs “Ring the Bell” White Hinterland
By now, we have all probably heard Justin Bieber’s 2016 hit, “Sorry” at least once, and maybe one part that sticks out is the female vocalizing that happens in the beginning of the song as well as continues throughout. What some people may not know is that Bieber was accused of sampling the vocalized riffs from White Hinterland’s 2014 song, “Ring the Bell”. The lawsuit that was filed against Bieber and his team was supposedly handled outside the courtroom because Bieber and Skrillex, who helped with the song, denied these allegations. Soon after, Skrillex posted to Twitter a video of how they created the vocals and captioned it, “SORRY, but we didn’t steal this”. Many people think that it could have been possible but after seeing the Twitter post, who knows.
“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift vs. 3LW and Jesse Graham
While there was a lawsuit filed against Taylor Swift and her team because of this song, it never actually went anywhere because the California federal court judge deemed it not a strong case because the only thing that was “copyrighted” was the line “haters gonna hate/players gonna play”. The girl group 3LW, or 3 Little Women, were accusing Swift to taking their lyrics from their 2001 song, “Playas Gon’ Play”. In addition, Jesse Graham called out Swift for taking his lyrics from his song, “Haters Gone Hate”. While Graham never followed through with any legal action, 3LW attempted to file a lawsuit but it fell through when the judge didn’t see that it was worth it basically due to not enough being copied.
“Get Free” by Lana Del Rey, and “Creep” by Radiohead, and “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies
This case was especially interesting for many reasons. The first song out of the three to be released was The Hollies’, “The Air That I Breathe” in 1974. About 18 years later, Radiohead released their album Pablo Honey in 1992 with the song, “Creep” on it. Since this song became one of their most well known hits, people started to see similarities from The Hollies’ song. So much so that the band members who wrote “The Air That I Breathe”, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, successfully sued Radiohead’s lead singer, Thom York for stealing the song. While Radiohead stated that they were influenced by the song, it wasn’t enough to stop the case. Hammond and Hazlewood did receive credit for the song “Creep” and have their names in the liner notes on the album, as well as received royalties that they split amongst everyone. Another twenty-five years later goes by and Lana Del Rey releases her song, “Get Free” in 2017. And here is where things get interesting. Radiohead attempted to sue Lana Del Rey for stealing their song because how extremely similar they sounded. Although the chord progressions are exceptionally similar, the lawsuit failed, with no surprise. After all no one can own chord progressions, right?
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke ft. Pharrell Williams vs. “Got to Give It Up” Marvin Gaye
Not only were the artists derailed for the inappropriate lyrics and meaning behind the song, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams who wrote and sang the song, “Blurred Lines” that was released in 2013, were also found liable for copyright infringement. Marvin Gaye’s song released in 1977 was a jam that everyone could dance too, as well as having clean lyrics. Thicke and Williams had to pay the Gaye family $7.4 million dollars for the damages. A couple years later they attempted to appeal the case in 2016 but ultimately the court decided to side with the Gaye family. After all the hassle, the Gaye’s estate receives 50% of all the royalties from the song forever.
“Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice vs. “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie
We all should know by now one of the most famous bass lines ever written. As the members of Queen and David Bowie messed around in the studio for hours, John Deacon, the bass player of Queen, came up with a very memorable riff. Long story short, the band played off of that and wrote the song “Under Pressure” in 1982. Just eight years later, Vanilla Ice releases a song called, “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990. Just about everyone could tell something sounded familiar. Vanilla Ice explicitly took the bassline from “Under Pressure”. When Ice was threatened with the lawsuit, he decided to settle it out of court resulting in Bowie and Queen receiving all of the credit, which they rightfully deserved.
Of course there are an abundance of these cases and lawsuits that happened and will continue to happen. How else would we have songs, right? After all, every song is just influenced from previous songs. All artists have inspirations but is important that you don’t directly copy anything or a world of trouble will be knocking at your door.