It was when we were rehearsing one of our most popular tracks earlier this year, ‘Uptown Funk’ (as a party band we have played this track a lot this year – it is a real floor filler), that we realised how much it sounded like something we had heard before, perhaps at a school disco back in the day! The song was ‘Oops Upside Your Head’. Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed that we weren’t the only ones to have noticed this. The Gap Band had noticed too which ultimately resulted in them being added as co-writers of the song, earning them 17% royalties.
There have been many high profile copyright battles between artists over the years. A recent one involved Robin Thicke and Pharell over their song ‘Blurred Lines’. The family of Marvin Gaye claimed that the song had plagiarized Gaye’s 1977 song ‘Got To Give It Up’. This was strongly contested by Thicke and Pharrell who admitted to being influenced by the song but denied any infringement of copyright. Despite their protestations they were order to pay Gaye’s family US$7.4 million in damages. What do you think?
One that seems pretty indisputable is the Ghostbusters theme, released by Ray Parker Jr in 1984 but claimed by Huey Lewis to have been copied from his track ‘I Want a New Drug’. Lewis had originally been asked to write the theme tune for Ghostbusters but declined as he was busy working on the soundtrack for Back to the Future – it was a good year for movies, and soundtracks! Listening to the two tracks it is hard to imagine that Ray Parker Jr could really have denied the claim. Who you gonna call? Erm… my lawyer. In fact it didn’t come to that. They settled out of court.
When Vanilla Ice released ‘Ice Ice Baby’ in 1990, it seemed pretty obvious that he had sampled Queen and David Bowie’s track ‘Under Pressure’. His mistake though was thinking he could get away without asking permission and crediting them. Initially claiming that he had slightly changed the melody, he later admitted to using the sample, and paid up!
Musical history is indeed littered with these cases. Take the track ‘Fight Test’ by The Flaming Lips https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcFKlEfu_eU which sounds so much like ‘Father and Son’ by Cat Stevens that Stevens now receives 75% of all royalties from this song.
Considering Cat Stevens gets 75% royalties you have to feel a little sorry for Belgian songwriter Salvatore Acquaviva who took Madonna to court claiming that her 1998 hit ‘Frozen’ had been copied from his own track ‘Ma Vie Fout le Camp’. The judge agreed and banned Madonna’s track from being played on Belgian TV and Radio. Harsh. Whether it’s subconscious or just a case of artists seeing what they can get away with, even some of the seemingly coolest songwriters around have been accused and found guilty of plagiarism. From Led Zep, to George Harrison, From Coldplay to Radiohead.
What do you think? – do you know of any songs which sound strangely like someone else’s? Leave us a comment.