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Lana Del Rey And Radiohead Are Not Alone: 5 Times Soundalike Songs Ended Up In Court

Legal fights over similar-sounding riffs, familiar beats, and musical plagiarism are part of a longstanding music-industry tradition.

Lana Del Rey And Radiohead Are Not Alone: 5 Times Soundalike Songs Ended Up In Court
[Photo: Harmony Gerber/FilmMagic]

Lana Del Rey says that Radiohead (and/or its publishers) are suing her over similarities between her song “Get Free” and their 1992 hit “Creep.” Reports of legal action emerged over the weekend, and Del Rey confirmed the suit today in a tweet.

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The 32-year-old pop singer denies that she was inspired by the song, and currently the Lust for Life track currently lists Del Rey, Rick Nowels, and Kieron Menzies as co-writers. That could change, though, if Radiohead prevails in its suit.

It’s a bit ironic that Radiohead is now eyeing Del Rey for copying “Creep,” because Radiohead itself was allegedly threatened with a lawsuit over the same song. Turns out “Creep” was inspired by the Hollies’ song “The Air That I Breathe,” written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood. The duo are now credited as co-writers of “Creep,” and Hammond and Hazlewood split royalties with the band.

How the lawsuit will play out is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: Legal fights over similar-sounding guitar riffs, identical beats, lyrical rip-offs, and alleged musical plagiarism are part of a longstanding music-industry tradition. Here are five other times when soundalike songs ended up with lawyers battling it out:

George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord” (1970) vs.  the Chiffons, “He’s So Fine” (written by Ronnie Mack) (1962)

George Harrison was the first Beatle to write a No. 1 song after the band’s breakup. Unfortunately, his hit bore an uncanny resemblance to the song Ronnie Mack wrote for the Chiffons. While Harrison claimed he based the melody on the public-domain hymn “Oh Happy Day,” even he couldn’t help but notice the similarity between these songs, which he noted in his autobiography. The judge ruled that Harrison was guilty of “subconscious plagiarism,” and  ordered him to pay $1,599,987, which was eventually lowered to $587,000 after a years-long legal battle.

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The Verve, “Bittersweet Symphony” (1997) vs. the Rolling Stones, “The Last Time” (1965)

For their mega-hit song, the Verve licensed a portion of a symphonic cover of the Rolling Stones’ song “The Last Time,” recorded in 1965 by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. However, per a lawsuit, they used more of the Stones’ cover than the parties originally agreed on, resulting in claims of copyright infringement. The result was an out-of-court settlement that gave the Stones 100% of the songwriting royalties and publishing rights, and Andrew Oldham took a chunk of the mechanical royalties, too. When “Bittersweet Symphony” was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Song,” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were named on the ballot. The case is particularly vexing because the man who wrote the orchestral arrangement that was sampled, David Whitaker, received no credit for his work.

Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven” (1970) vs. Spirit, “Taurus” (1968)

Back in 1969, Led Zeppelin toured with the band Spirit, who frequently included an instrumental track called “Taurus” in their opening set. So it’s reasonable to assume that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant may have heard “Taurus” before recording their career-defining song “Stairway to Heaven” in 1970. In 2016, a lawyer representing the estate of Spirit’s late guitarist Randy Wolfe, filed suit, claiming that the hard rockers had lifted the four-chord-progression in the song’s intro from Spirit’s track. Led Zeppelin eventually prevailed in the suit, though, when a Los Angeles jury determined that Spirit’s lawyers were not able to prove their case. Zeppelin retained full rights and royalties to their song.

Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby” (1989) vs. David Bowie and Queen “Under Pressure” (1981)

Vanilla Ice famously insisted that the intro to his pop rap song “Ice Ice Baby” was completely different from the bass line to Queen and Bowie’s song “Under Pressure,” because he added a single beat. Lawyers for Queen and Bowie disagreed and threatened to file a copyright infringement suit. Ice’s team (which undoubtedly had eardrums and noticed the striking similarity between the songs) paid an undisclosed sum, and Bowie and Queen were given songwriting credit for the tracks.

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Robin Thicke and Pharrell, “Blurred Lines” (2013) vs Marvin Gaye, “Got To Give It Up” (1977)

In 2013, the funky pop hit “Blurred Lines” was inescapable, and the family of late soul singer Marvin Gaye noticed a similarity to their father’s work. They filed a suit alleging Thicke and his co-writer, Pharrell Williams, infringed on Gaye’s song, and a Los Angeles jury agreed, finding them guilty of unlawfully copying “Got to Give It Up.” The result was one of the largest payouts in music-copyright history, with the jury ordering Thicke and Williams to pay the Gaye family $7.3 million, which was later decreased to $5.3 million, and the Gayes got 50% of the song’s future royalties. The massive sum was particularly surprising because the suit was largely based on “inspiration” instead of exact copying, basically giving the Gaye family rights to a “vibe.”

 

UPDATE:  Radiohead’s publicist reached out with a statement about the ongoing skirmish:

As Radiohead’s music publisher, it’s true that we’ve been in discussions since August of last year with Lana Del Rey’s representatives. It’s clear that the verses of “Get Free” use musical elements found in the verses of “Creep” and we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favour of all writers of “Creep”. 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 Warner/Chappell Spokesperson

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About the author

Melissa Locker is a writer and world renowned fish telepathist.

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