Three Famous Plagiarism Cases in Popular Music

Plagiarism – the act of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. Now to avoid committing that very act myself I should point out that definition came from dictionary.reference.com. Plagiarism can be a completely intentional act, brashly performed without fear of the consequences. But it can also be unintentional, a sub-conscious recollection of something you’ve heard or read that resurfaces as what seems like an idea rather than a memory.


Whether intentional or not, plagiarism occurs in music all the time. A song that becomes significantly popular may have used a chord progression or a keyboard line that bears remarkable similarity to a previously released song. It may even use a chunk of another song (called ‘sampling’) without giving credit to the original songwriter. The original writer gets wind of this and consults a specialist litigation lawyer like Glenn Duker to seek compensation for their work being used unlawfully. Here are three examples where the original writer has said ‘nah – not cool!’, and successfully sued for their rightful cut of the song’s earnings.


The Marvin Gaye Estate vs Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams

Blurred Lines was one 2013’s most popular songs across the world, topping the charts for multiple weeks and earning numerous Grammy nominations. It also caught the ear of the executors of the Marvin Gaye Estate, who believed that the song was a little too similar to Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’. They made these feelings public, resulting in Thicke and Williams suing them for a declaratory judgement that Blurred Lines did not breach copyright. Turns out the judge didn’t agree, ruling on March 10, 2015 that Thicke and Williams must pay the Marvin Gaye Estate $7.4 million USD. Thicke and Williams plan to appeal the verdict.


Larrikin Music vs Men At Work

What was seemingly a harmless question posed in a television quiz show resulted in Australia’s unofficial national anthem finding itself amidst a copyright controversy. No, not Waltzing Matilda: Men At Work’s 1981 hit Down Under. Similarities between the track’s flute parts and the melody of the song Kookaburra (written by Marion Sinclair in 1932) were innocuously mentioned in an episode of music quiz show Spicks and Specks. The Australian-based owners to the rights of Kookaburra, Larrikin Music, then took the band to court. It was a unique case in that there was a general perception that Kookaburra was a ‘traditional’ song and therefore in the public domain. However in 2009 the judge presiding over the case ruled that Larrikin Music did indeed hold the copyright and in 2010 declared that Larrikin was to receive 5% of all royalties earned since 2002.


Queen & David Bowie vs Vanilla Ice

One of the most blatant examples of musical copyright infringement has been the use of the 1981 Queen and David Bowie song Under Pressure in the 1990 Vanilla Ice song Ice Ice Baby, a song that went #1 across the world. Vanilla Ice used the bassline from Under Pressure to create his hit, altering it slightly in the hope that it would free him of such pesky matters as giving credit and obtaining permission for use of the song. Turns out it didn’t, with Queen and Bowie pulling Ice up on his little ‘oversight’. In this instance though the case didn’t go to court, with Vanilla Ice, Queen & David Bowie agreeing to settle.


Experienced litigator and solicitor Glenn Duker specialises in all copyright related matters whether it’s establishing copyright or representing plaintiffs or defendants in infringement cases. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

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