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11 Artists Accused of Music Plagiarism

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Could it be true? That the summer’s biggest hit is not really a Robin Thicke original? That’s the latest controversy brewing over Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” After being warned that a lawsuit was perhaps forthcoming, Thicke preemptively sued the copyright holders for Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” and George Clinton’s “Sexy Ways,” asking a federal judge to determine that the song is not derivative of the other two works. You can decide for yourself: Thicke vs. Gaye.

Thicke is far from alone, though: There’s a long line of accusers and accused who have found themselves in similar situations.

1. My Sweet Lord/He’s So Fine

The Issue: Although it contained some embellishment, Harrison’s 1970 solo effort “My Sweet Lord” basically had the exact same melody as The Chiffons’ 1963 hit “He’s So Fine.”

The Ruling: Though it was decided that Harrison didn’t purposely steal the song—it was considered a case of subconscious theft—he was ordered to pay $1.6 million to Bright Tunes Music Corporation, about 75 percent of the song’s North American sales. This was later downgraded to $587,000, but Harrison later admitted that the ruling left him too paranoid to write songs for quite some time.

2. Ghostbusters/I Want a New Drug

The Issue: Allegedly, the producers behind Ghostbusters approached Ray Parker, Jr., and asked him to come up with a song that included the name of the film, but was rather simple otherwise. They played Huey Lewis’ “I Want a New Drug” for Parker as an example of the sound they wanted, and Parker apparently just lifted the bass line and guitar riff almost directly. Huey Lewis and his people sued for $5 million.

The Ruling: They settled out of court, and the terms of the settlement were confidential until Huey Lewis did VH1’s Behind the Music series in 2001, when he said, “The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker Jr. had ripped this song off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something—they wanted our wave, and they wanted to buy it. ... [I]t's not for sale. ... In the end, I suppose they were right. I suppose it was for sale, because, basically, they bought it."

Ray Parker, Jr., sued him for breaching the confidentiality agreement. It doesn’t appear that the results of that lawsuit were made public, so it looks like people are keeping their mouths shut this time.

3. Last Nite/American Girl

The Issue: The Strokes flat out admitted that they took the opening of "Last Night" directly from "American Girl."

The Ruling: Tom Petty wasn’t interested in a lawsuit. “That made me laugh out loud. I was like, ‘OK, good for you.’ It doesn’t bother me … If someone took my song note for note and stole it maliciously, then maybe. But I don’t believe in lawsuits much. I think there are enough frivolous lawsuits in this country without people fighting over pop songs.” Petty had a similar reaction when people pointed out the similarities between the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California" and Petty's "Last Dance With Mary Jane." He told Rolling Stone, “The truth is, I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there. And a lot of rock and roll songs sound alike. Ask Chuck Berry.”

4. Bitter Sweet Symphony/The Last Time

The Issue: The famous opening (and continued theme) from "Bitter Sweet Symphony" was borrowed from an orchestral version of the Stones’ “The Last Time.”

The Ruling: It was bittersweet, all right. A judge ordered The Verve to give musical credit entirely to Jagger-Richards—not to mention all of the profit, meaning that the band didn’t make a dime off of their most popular song. Lead singer Richard Ashcroft called it the best song the Rolling Stones had written in 20 years.

5. Hello I Love You/All Day and All of the Night

The Issue: The chord structure and rhythm are the same in both songs, and the choruses share the same melody.

The Ruling: Despite urging from their lawyer, The Kinks never took legal action. Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger later stated in the liner notes of a box set that although they didn’t rip anything off from the Kinks, they did rip the drumbeat of the song from Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”

6. Frozen/Ma vie fout le camp

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The Issue: The opening four bars to “Frozen” from Madonna’s Ray of Light album are virtually identical to “Ma vie fout le camp” by Salvatore Acquaviva.

The Ruling: Madonna lost... but only in Belgium, where Acquaviva is from. Although a Belgian judge ruled that “Frozen” was, in fact, plagiarized, Madge didn’t have to pay any damages. The judge ruled that the album be pulled from shelves and that the song be removed from radio and television play in Belgium. Just Belgium. Madonna being Madonna, she of course flouted the ruling and played the song on her Sticky and Sweet tour stop in Belgium in 2009. Aqcuaviva’s representatives declined to sue.

Madonna was also accused of stealing parts of "Justify My Love" from Public Enemy.

7. Folsom Prison Blues/Crescent City Blues

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The Issue: "Folsom Prison" is almost the exact same song—even down to the lyrics—as "Crescent City Blues," which came out two years before the Johnny Cash hit. Gordon Jenkins, the original songwriter, was not credited at all.

The Ruling: Cash ended up paying Jenkins about $75,000 after the At Folsom Prison album became popular. He got off easy. Listen to the songs. They’re almost identical.

8. You Are Not Alone/If We Can Start All Over

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The Issue: Twin composers Eddie and Danny Van Passel alleged that songwriter R. Kelly stole pretty much their entire 1993 song "We Can Start All Over." "You Are Not Alone" was released in 1995. 

The Ruling: In 2007, a Belgian court finally ruled that R. Kelly did indeed steal from the Van Passel brothers. The judgment is only recognized in Belgium, where airplay of "You Are Not Alone" has been banned.

9. Surfin’ USA/Sweet Little Sixteen

The Issue: It’s the same song. Seriously, you can play “Sweet Little Sixteen” and sing the lyrics to “Surfin’ USA” and it fits perfectly. Berry’s record label noticed the striking similarity and went after the Beach Boys, who freely admitted they had ripped off the melody—and even the lyrical theme of visiting various locations. “I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots,” Brian Wilson said. “I started humming the melody to 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, 'God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to Sweet Little Sixteen's melody?’”

The Ruling: Berry won co-authorship on the song, plus a portion of royalties from “Surfin’ USA.”

10. The Air that I Breathe/Creep

The Issue: Radiohead’s debut single borrows a bridge section from The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe”. I was kind of doubtful about this one, but parts of these songs are shockingly similar.

The Ruling: According to Albert Hammond, co-author of The Hollies’ song, he and Thom Yorke agreed “Creep” had creeped on “The Air That I Breathe,” so Yorke agreed to share writing credit with Hammond and Mike Hazlewood and gave them both a portion of the royalties.

11. Come Together/You Can’t Catch Me

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The Issue: Berry’s song “You Can’t Catch Me” contains the lyric, ”Here come a flattop, he was movin' up with me.” Sound familiar? It sounded familiar to Chuck Berry too, right down to the voice inflections.

The Ruling: To keep Berry and Morris Levy, his publisher, happy, John Lennon agreed to record three more songs from Levy’s catalog. This did not go well. When Lennon only came through with two songs, Levy sued Lennon and ended up winning just under $7000. This was a pittance compared to what Lennon sued Levy for. Levy released an unauthorized album of Lennon songs based on the rough cuts Lennon sent over when he was trying to pick three songs to record to fulfill the original agreement. Levy ended up having to pay EMI $109,700 and $42,000 to Lennon for damaging his reputation with the poor quality of the record and the “horrible” cover art.

See Also:: The Time John Fogerty Was Sued for Ripping Off John Fogerty

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

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ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

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