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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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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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