Sometimes it seems strange when two very similar ideas emerge at the same time. Often it is a coincidence. People moving in a similar culture, exposed to similar stimuli, and inspired by a similar history can come up with something pretty similar. It happens. But sometimes, someone is just stealing their ideas from someone else.
That is what is alleged in the following 12 cases of songwriters apparently stealing the riff for their hit from another song, or even copying a song verbatim. Which of your favorite original songs is not as original as you thought?
The Doors – Hello, I Love You
Probably one of the most well-known hits from the band The Doors is “Hello, I Love You”, but was it their original work? A UK court ordered the US band to pay the UK band The Kinks royalties for using a similar riff to their hit “All Day and All of the Night”. The Kinks didn’t sue, as they respected their fellow rockers, but the two bands came to an agreement.
Lady Gaga – Shallow
Steven Ronsen claimed that the acclaimed singer, songwriter Lady Gaga stole a three-note progression from his song “almost” for her 2018 hit “Shallow”. While Ronsen is claiming a pretty hefty settlement, Gaga and her lawyer are claiming that the songs don’t sound anything alike, and that the progression is actually pretty common.
Led Zeppelin – Dazed and Confused
This is only one of many copyright issues that this famous band has faced over the years. In 2010 Jack Holmes sued the band for ripping off a song of his, also called “Dazed and Confused”, that he played while on tour with The Yardbirds in 1967, two years before the Zeppelin hit was released. In the end, the case was settled out of court.
Led Zeppelin were also sued by songwriter Willie Dixon for ripping of his song “You Need Love” for their hit “A Whole Lotta Love”, and by the band Spirit for ripping of their song “Taurus” for “Stairway to Heaven”, to name but a few.
Nirvana – Smells Like Teen Spirit
Legendary band Nirvana made a mint with their anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but they also faced a lot of criticism for ripping off the song “More Than a Feeling”. The band themselves poked fun at this idea when doing a show in Reading England in 1992, where they replaced the chorus from their own song with the one that they had apparently ripped off.
Katy Perry – Dark Horse
In 2013 the court found that Katy Perry’s hit “Dark Horse” stole from the Christian rap song “Joyful Noise” released by musician Marcus Gray in 2009. Perry and her record label were ordered to pay $2.78 million to Gray as a result.
Radiohead – Creep
Popular British band Radiohead were accused of stealing ideas from The Hollies song “The Air That I Breathe” for their hit “Creep”. The Hollies songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood successfully sued, and not only receive royalties, but are listed as co-writers of the song.
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
While Ronson makes no secret of being influenced by funk songs of the 70s and 80s, The Gap Band claims more than influence when it comes to Ronson’s hit with Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”, which they claim is a rip off of their hit “Oops Upside Your Head”. Listening to the two songs, the courts agreed, and the band now receives a 17 percent share of publishing royalties.
Ed Sheeran – Photograph
Ed Sheeran is known as a prolific songwriter, and although all his songs sound a little the same, he doesn’t seem like he needs to plagiarize. Nevertheless, songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard claimed him of stealing their hit “Amazing”, sung by Matt Cardle, note for note. The case was settled privately.
Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines
Robin Thicke was accused of plagiarizing Marvin Gaye’s hit “Git to Give it Up” for his own song “Blurred Lines”. A jury actually sided with Gaye twice, the first time in 2017 which saw Thick and co-writer Pharrell Williams paying $7.4 million in damages. When the appealed, the jury upheld the ruling and they have to give Gaye’s estate 50 percent of all royalties for the song forever. Lesson – don’t try and rip off Marvin Gaye.
Carry Underwood – Sunday Night Football
American Idol alumna and country music sensation partnered with the NFL and NBC to produce the song “Game On” for Sunday Night Football, but they have been accused of ripping off her 2016 song “Game On”. They actually claimed to have pitched the song to Underwood and her team in 2017, who rejected the idea, but that their own song of the same name uses a similar refrain and melody.
Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby
Vanilla Ice hit “Ice Ice Baby” was accused of taking the baseline from the song “Under Pressure”, a collaboration between Queen and David Bowie, some of the best songwriting talent ever. With the threat of a lawsuit, the 80s icon settled, and Bowie and Queen now have all the writing credits on the song. Don’t mess with the best.
Brian Wilson – Surfin’ USA
Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is credited as the writer of their hit “Surfin’s USA” from 1963, but he was later forced to share credit with Chuck Berry after it was decided that it largely ripped off the song “Sweet Little Sixteen”. Wilson actually admits that he just took the earlier song and rewrote the lyrics to suit his band.