Musicians That Were Sued for Plagiarism
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Copyright in music is notoriously difficult to work out. While using a ‘sample’ of music can fly under the legal radar, many musicians take it too far and end up in court. Or they may accidentally subconsciously replicate an existing work or create a parody song that offends the original artist. It can be legally tricky to work out where inspiration ends and copying begins- but that keeps entertainment lawyers in business! This is why many new content creators carefully use only copyright-free music in their works. Here are some famous instances of musicians sued for plagiarism and how it turned out.
Musicians that were Sued for Plagiarism
The Rolling Stones vs. The Verve
As was the case here, many copyright battles are not brought by the musicians but rather by their managers or record producers. Not one, but two Rolling Stones managers claimed that The Verve used a greater chunk of their song, The Last Time, for The Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony.
The strings on this album are orchestral rearrangements of the Rolling Stones’ songs. They were sued for $1.7 million and credits for Jagger and Richardson on the song- which is why they were also nominated for a Grammy in 1999 alongside The Verve. However, Jagger and Richards returned the publishing rights to The Verve in 2019, ending this dispute for good.
Queen, David Bowie vs. Vanilla Ice
Anyone who has heard Queen and David Bowie’s iconic Under Pressure will recognize the same powerful underlying rifts as Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby. Surprisingly, despite this patent duplication of the riffs, they settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Vanilla Ice has claimed he paid $4 million for this, but we have no real evidence to back this claim.
Chuck Berry vs. the Beatles
More accurately, this was a battle between John Lennon, who wrote the band’s breakout hit, Come Together, and Morris Levy, a producer who owned the rights to You Can’t Catch Me. Surprisingly, Paul McCartney is said to have recognized the similarities when he first heard Lennon’s new song. Despite slowing it down, it wasn’t seen to be different enough.
This one had a very odd settlement, too. Levy demanded that the Beatles cover even more of Chuck Berry’s work rather than a cash amount. However, Lennon broke the contract and didn’t record the agreed-upon songs.
Salvatore Acquaviva vs. Madonna
In this case, Madonna’s return to the music scene, Frozen, was claimed to take too much from Salvatore Acquaviva’s Ma Vie Fout le Camp. It’s notable because it had an odd resolution. Although he won the suit, he demanded she withdraws sales from the remaining song CDs, which were banned from play in Belgium.
To add some intrigue, in 2014, another artist claimed both songs plagiarized one of their works! This worked out in no one’s favor, except maybe Madonna’s, as the resulting judgment was that all three pieces were ‘not original enough to make claims on each other, and the original ban must fall. A bit of a burn to the artists, but it’s interesting all the same.
The music world is full of plagiarism accusations, both legitimate and otherwise, and it’s a fascinating field of the law to consider- if tricky (and sometimes profitable) to defend or prosecute!
I’m a driven and accomplished law graduate and post-graduate, passionate about sharing my legal expertise via my blog. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of London (UK) and a Master’s in Law from the University of Derby (UK). Both gave me the foundational knowledge and skills to excel in my chosen career path.
Throughout my academic journey, I have gained extensive knowledge in various fields of Law, including Corporate and Business Law in the USA, Criminal Law, International Law, US Copyright law, and most importantly, American Constitutional law.
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