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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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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
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The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
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People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
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Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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