University Survival Kit

Plagiarism in Music: What Would You Say If Your Favorite Musicians Steal?

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To create something brand new is difficult. There is a well-known saying that everything was already created and the “new” only imitates existing patterns.

No doubt you could find some covers of your favorite songs on which the original source is acknowledged, i.e. the musical performer who created the song. This would definitely not be a case of plagiarism detected.

On the other hand, you may know numerous examples of musicians, artists or writers who find nothing wrong in “borrowing” someone else’s material. This is called copyright infringement or plagiarism. Stealing ideas that originate with another person is equal to word-for-word copying and can be punished accordingly.

Here are some cases of plagiarism in music that you likely have not heard about:

  • The Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine” and George Harrison “My Sweet Lord”

After The Beatles broke up, Harrison’s first solo album “All Things Must Pass”(1970) was the talk of the town. Now that he was free to do anything he wished, a range of musical hits appeared. One of them was a song “My Sweet Lord.” Unfortunately, it turned out to be similar to the already created one “He’s So Fine” (1963), which belongs to The Chiffons.

  • Chuck Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and The Beatles “Come Together”

Chuck Berry is an absolutely great musician to follow. So many people are inspired by him and his music. Here is another plagiarism case that involved his work.

In 1973, Berry’s publishing company sued John Lennon for stealing a few lines for “Come Together” from “You Can’t Catch Me.” The lawsuit process took several years to be resolved.

  • The New Seekers “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” and Oasis “Shakermaker”

At first, it might seem that there would be nothing in common between the source and Oasis’ version – male vocal, slow tempo, popularity. In talking about popularity, Oasis managed to top the charts with this song. Then, in 1972, the New Seekers song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” (1972) took on new life.

  • Tom Petty “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and Red Hot Chili Peppers “Dani California”

Tom Petty commented on the case in the Rolling Stone magazine this way, “The truth is, I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock’n’roll songs sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry… If someone took my song note for note and stole it maliciously, then maybe. But I don’t believe in lawsuits much.”

  • The Family Dogg “The Air That I Breathe” and Radiohead “Creep”

Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood (founders of The Family Dogg) composed “The Air That I Breathe” that Radiohead plagiarized. As a result, Radiohead was obliged to attribute Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood song. The Hollies were among the singers to subsequently record the song.

  • Gordon Jenkins “Crescent City Blues” and Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Blues”

Did you know that Johnny Cash had to pay a $75,000 fine to the composer Gordon Jenkins for usage of his “Crescent City Blues”? He did. Though Cash’s lyrics differ, he was forced to pay for other similarities found in the track.

  • The Rubinoos “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and Avril Lavigne “Girlfriend”

Avril Lavigne’s co-writer Dr. Luke received a claim from the Rubinoos founder accusing him of music theft after a plagiarism scan. Ms. Lavigne denies hearing the song before, and the conflict is still unresolved.

  • Led Zeppelin and a number of musicians

Led Zeppelin seems to be a plagiarism champion, ripping off components from many other musical compositions. As investigations show, more than a few songs were stolen from. “Stairway to Heaven” is like “Taurus” by Spirit. “Dazed & Confused” was from a song by the same title by Jake Holmes. “How Many more Times” owes itself to “How Many More Years” by Howlin’ Wolf, as well as “The Lemon Song” from “Killing Floor”. Components of “Never” by Moby Grape were in Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” Finally, “Whole Lotta Love” was borrowed from twice, first by The Small Faces from Willie Dixon’s original song “You Need Love.” This lawsuit has just been settled.

Check out our blog post about similarities in Bob Dylan lyrics and numerous accusations in plagiarism.