Songs In Court: Top Copyright Cases in Music


The real fun begins when the music you wrote goes on trial because some other artist claims that you stole his or her original work.

Well, this happens more often than you might think. So here are some of the biggest copyright cases in music that you might find interesting. This is an excerpt from the

The Beach Boys vs Chuck Berry
Way back in 1963, the legendary Beach Boys got in trouble for apparently stealing from another legend – Chuck Berry. At the time rock music was still in its formative years, the Californian band released “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” written by their own Brian Wilson. And just like any other rock ‘n’ roll song at the time, it featured a simple and fun chord progression and melodies. It turns out it really resembled Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” and eventually they had to add his name for writing credits.



Led Zeppelin vs Willie Dixon
It’s not a rare occasion to see Led Zeppelin blamed for nicking a tune. Well, two of the tracks from their sophomore album – “Bring It On Home” and “Whole Lotta Love” – strongly resembled some of the songs written by Willie Dixon. The first one is an homage to Sonny Boy Williamson’s 1966 song of the same title, with intro and outro being the same and the rest of the song written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. However, as there was no Dixon’s name on the songwriting credits, Led Zeppelin got sued for it.

The second song, legendary rock anthem “Whole Lotta Love,” had certain parts that resembled Muddy Waters’ “You Need Love,” also written by Dixon. Both parties settled these cases out of court for an undisclosed sum, probably a large one. And Dixon got the songwriting credits.


Vanilla Ice vs David Bowie and Queen
This whole thing pretty much ruined Vanilla Ice’s reputation, as it was obvious that “Ice, Ice, Baby” featured a bassline from Queen’s song “Under Pressure.” What’s more, they didn’t receive any songwriting credits and the rapper claimed that the melodies are actually different. Later on, Vanilla Ice tried to back peddle by saying this statement was a joke. But it wasn’t funny when Queen and David Bowie representatives threatened with a copyright infringement. Everything was settled out of court and the original writers were given credit and financial compensation.

Besides all the controversies, “Ice, Ice, Baby” made history as it was the first hip-hop single to top the Billboard charts.

The Verve vs The Rolling Stones
In 1965, Andrew Oldham Orchestra did their own version of The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” with composer David Whitaker writing and arranging all the strings. When The Verve did their song “Bittersweet Symphony” in 1996, they asked for a permission to use the six-note long sample of this particular version. However, according to ex-Stones manager Allen Klein, The Verve didn’t respect this agreement and took more as a sample. So instead of having 50/50 deal, all the royalties ended up going to Klein while Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were added as songwriters.

Led Zeppelin vs Spirit
Another instance where Led Zeppelin was blamed for taking somebody else’s work. There were some similarities between the legendary song “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” by Spirit, released back in 1968. Years later, in 2014, the band’s bassist Mark Andes filed the lawsuit in the name of guitarist Randy California who passed away in 1997. As the Spirit representatives said, why the lawsuit wasn’t filed earlier was due to lack of resources. In June 2016, the jury ruled that there aren’t enough similarities for a copyright infringement.

Radiohead vs Lana Del Rey
It seems that many people find striking similarities between Lana Del Rey’s 2017 song “Get Free” and Radiohead’s 1992 hit “Creep.” After some rumors, Del Ray finally revealed that Radiohead’s side is ready to sue. Even though the band denied this, a representative of Warner/Chappell Music revealed that there were talks with Del Rey’s people but no legal actions. The whole thing is yet to go on court.

Radiohead themselves were sued over “Creep” for its similarities with the 1974 song “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies.






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