The Strange, Stupid History of Pop Music Plagiarism

Categories: Commentary

Flickr user Heinrich Klaffs
Yeah, even this guy.
Plagiarism in music is a weird concoction of money, pride and misinterpretation. We all know that nobody has written an original rock song since 1953, and the entire music industry is founded on the principle of exchanging blurry photocopies of other people's work. But that certainly doesn't stop artists from realizing a cash opportunity when they see it. Case in point: Tame Impala, an Australian psych band currently fielding accusations that their song "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" rips off Argentinian singer Pablo Ruiz's "Océano," which we can almost be sure is a song that Tame Impala have never, ever heard. It doesn't matter, money talks, and the band will inevitably get sued and be tied up in courts for years to come.

So we decided to look back on some of the more interesting cases of music plagiarism. Who among our favorite artists decided to ingloriously steal (or take inspiration from, depends on your definition,) from others? Can we learn anything, or is this just a never-ending cat fight of litigation and tears? The answer is more obvious than you'd expect.

8. Coldplay - "Viva La Vida"

The Case: Do you hate Coldplay? Of course you do! Do you hate Coldplay as much as Joe Satriani? That's a tough one, isn't it? Satriani claimed that those watery pipes of synth on "Viva la Vida" were directly taken from his winding guitar melodrama "If I Could Fly." If you have been accused of stealing music from Joe Satriani, that should cause you to rethink your entire songwriting philosophy.

What Happened: Nothing, really. The case was thrown out after both parties potentially agreed to a settlement. It's a weird world we live in: somewhere in America, Joe Satriani is spending Chris Martin's money.

7. Robin Thicke - "Blurred Lines"

The Case: Perhaps you remember this one? Robin Thicke makes absurdly popular pop song, which graciously borrows from a classic Marvin Gaye banger from years past. The Gaye Estate see this as stealing more than tribute, and begin to launch legal proceedings directly at EMI. Robin Thicke throws his hands up and says something to the effect of "Hey man! Can't we all just get along?"

What Happened: This case is still tied up in court, but we absolutely guarantee it ends with Robin Thicke giving a lot of money to Marvin Gaye's kids.

6. Led Zeppelin - "Whole Lotta Love"

The Case: Most Led Zeppelin riffs are borrowed from some unearthed blues records, repurposed for much louder, much more profitable purposes. But when one of your most popular songs ever lifts lyrics from a Willie Dixon song, well, people will start to notice. Especially when yours is called "Whole Lotta Love," and his is "You Need Love"

What Happened: In what has become something of a tradition for Led Zeppelin, they settled outside of court with Dixon's camp and added him as a co-writer. Seriously, go look at the inside insert of your latest Zeppelin reissue, and you'll see a lot of names you don't recognize.

5. Avril Lavigne - "Girlfriend"

The Case: Avril Lavigne writes a song called "Girlfriend," clearly meant to homage a power-pop song called "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Unfortunately, no clearance was officially given, and when you copy music this ferociously without officially sampling, a bunch of has-beens like the Rubinoos smell blood in the water.

What Happened: Avril Lavigne married Chad Kroeger, but not before paying out an undisclosed settlement to a bunch of old men with layers.

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