The 11th of March 2015 will, from now on, be remembered as the day that one of the biggest music based lawsuits of all time went down, when a court found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams guilty of copying Marvin Gaye’s 1977 track ‘Got To Give It Up’ and subsequently creating the biggest single of 2013 ‘Blurred Lines’. This got us thinking about some of the other infamous court cases and arguments in music over the years and the huge amounts of money that changed hands and the artists involved in the whole mess.
Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams vs Marvin Gaye: 2014
So as previously explained, this is not only the newest example of this but also one of the biggest, as a massive seven point four million pounds changed hands and was awarded to the family of the soul legend following a court battle that accused the pair of ripping off ‘Got To Give It Up’ in an effort to write the hit of the summer and what would eventually become the best-selling single of the year. In 2013 you couldn’t avoid ‘Blurred Lines’ and its raunchy video. On inspection the ever so slimey Thicke and the former N.E.R.D front man had not only, as claimed and admitted, been ‘inspired by Marvin Gaye, but it was almost identical bar a bit of a key change. Considering the talent and notoriety of Williams, at first you may think he couldn’t possibly have thieved from an existing song and especially a legend like Marvin Gaye, but as it happens, it’s shamefully close. Don’t know if its seven million quids worth of close, but who cares, I’m a bigger Marvin Gaye fan anyway
Led Zeppelin vs Willie Dixon: 1987
One of the greatest blues song writers of all time, Willie Dixon ended up having a bit of a do with rock legends Led Zeppelin in the late eighties when he accused them of plagiarising two of his songs to create the classic ‘Whole Lotta Love. Pretty sneaky of Jimmy Page and the boys but they didn’t get away with it. Blues fans themselves, they tried to create magic by taking the music of ‘Bring It On Home’ and the lyrics of ‘You Need Love’, both written by Dixon, and going on to form the groundwork for ‘Whole Lotta Love’. This one ended up getting settled out of court but it’s been said that around one million pounds was spent and on Led Zeppelin II, you’ll see Willie’s name added to the writing credits. Not the last time Page was in trouble for this and folk singer Jake Holmes attempted to sue him for ripping of his 1967 track ‘Dazed and Confused’ when Page was part of the Yardbirds. Oh Jimmy, what are you like?
Chuck Berry vs The Beach Boys:
Released in 1963, the Beach boys became the new leaders of a generation of white kids with their anthem ‘Surfin’ U.S.A’, a song that everybody knows and recognises whether you’ve surfed before or you haven’t. But the interesting fact about this classic hit is that it’s almost a direct rip off musically of a Chuck Berry song, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’. Now I don’t think this one actually kicked up too much of a fuss as the song was released by the same publisher as Berry. But the original rock n roll legend must have had a bitter taste in his mouth when he realised, that despite all the segregation and racial tension present in the early 60’s he was the guy providing the sound track to white America. Apparently there was some aggravation and initially some tension as Brian Wilson was said to have composed the entire thing himself but it soon came out that Berry was actually a fan, the song was meant as more of a tribute to Berry and on later releases of the song, Chuck Berry can be seen to be noted as the songwriter. So, nothing too messy on this occasion but what a kick in the teeth for Chuck Berry.
Queen & David Bowie vs Vanilla Ice: 1990
Here’s one of the more obvious and probably famous examples as everyone’s favourite white rapper after Eminem and any other white rapper you can think of, brazenly sampled the bass line from ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen & David Bowie without any permission or legal right and featured it on his only known song by anyone ever ‘Ice Ice baby’. Now anybody with ears can tell that they sound exactly alike, in fact we’ve probably all had that horrible moment in a club when the bass kicks in and you think ‘”Oh great, a bit of Bowie” only for Robert Van Winkle to suddenly request ‘STOP…’ and disappointment ensues. If he would have taken his own advice, that’d have been fine with me everyone I expect. In the end all members of Queen and Bowie were credited on the song and a large sum was coughed up for his down right cheek. Too right as well.
The Verve vs The Rolling stones: 1997
Certainly not as blatant as Vanilla Ice’s attempts, this one is one of the more tragic and subtle examples you’ll find. As Richard Ashcroft and the boys intentionally sampled an orchestral version of ‘The Last time‘ by The Rolling Stones and create that iconic and infamous riff to ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. They even did the right thing and paid for a deal where they could freely use five notes from the original track. No problems here, until it was found that they may have accidentally used a little more than they should have done and a battle began. The Verve ended up losing out massively including having Jagger and Richards credited on the song and that’s right; all royalties for the song go to the Rolling Stones. Essentially the biggest hit the Verve ever had, one of the most recogniseable songs from the nineties and the music behind one of the most popular videos of all time, never made the band a penny.
Words by Stuart Green (@mojo20_music)