A bad music video can kill a good song. Same goes with when something is played to death on the radio. Another thing that can ruin a good song is when the artist is accused of ripping off someone else’s work. No one likes a copycat.
There have been some high profile legal battles about whether a hit song was a bonafide original or whether it knocked off something that came before. Sometimes, the cases go to court with the judges deciding the answers. Other times, the cases are quieter and we don’t hear about the legal drama surrounding our favorite songs. Have a look at 18 popular songs that are allegedly rip-offs from other artists.
No matter what ended up happening with the cases, we’ll leave it up to you to decide how you feel about each case and whether it involves copying, drawing inspiration, coincidences or it’s all just drama for the sake of drama.
“Happy” / “Ain’t That Peculiar”
There’s nothing like bringing down a song called “Happy” with an accusation of copyright infringement. After dealing with the “Blurred Lines” drama, Pharrell found himself in hot water again — with Marvin Gaye’s family. This time, they thought Pharrell’s 2013 hit sounded a bit too much like “Ain’t That Peculiar” from 1966. Nona Gaye, Marvin’s daughter, told CBS “I’m not going to lie. I do think they sound alike.” The family didn’t want to press legal action in 2015, possibly because they had been awarded the “Blurred Lines” settlement around the same time.
“Ghostbusters” / “I Want A New Drug”
Everybody knows the “Ghostbusters” song no matter how old they are. What you might not be aware of is that the 1984 smash hit by Ray Parker Jr. found itself in the middle of a legal battle. Huey Lewis and the News thought the catchy movie theme sounded a bit too much like their 1983 song “I Want A New Drug” so they took the singer to court. A settlement was reached in 1995 with a confidentiality agreement not to disclose what went down. In a twist, Ray sued Huey in 2001 after he commented about the OG lawsuit during an interview.
“We Can’t Stop” / “We Run Things”
Miley Cyrus has been known to attract controversy with some of her antics, but she probably didn’t expect to find herself in legal trouble over her song “We Can’t Stop.” The singer was sued by Jamaican reggae singer Flourgon because her song sounded strikingly similar in parts to his 1988 song “We Run Things.” What’s interesting is that the lawsuit was brought forth in March 2018, five years after Miley’s song debuted.
“On the Floor” / “Lambada”
Jennifer Lopez has released many hit songs. One track that garnered controversy was “On the Floor” featuring Pitbull from 2011. It drew comparisons to “Lambada” by Kaoma. The latter song was released in 1989. Comparing the two, many said that the beat and chorus were a bit too similar. The word “sampled” was used a lot. There’s no word on whether a lawsuit happened.
“Midnight Memories” / “Pour Some Sugar On Me”
It was a tale of the pop boy band versus the classic rockers when it came to One Direction‘s “Midnight Memories.” The 2013 hit drew comparisons to Def Leppard‘s 1987 track “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” The rockers denied they were going to take legal action against 1D despite reports in 2013. They thought there were some similarities with the chords, but nothing to get fussed about. One Direction is often at the center of drama about how “original” their songs are, but this might’ve been the most notable example.
“This Is America” / “American Pharaoh”
“This Is America” is the most talked about song of the summer — and will probably go down in history as the most talked about song of 2018. But Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover‘s song has an unexpected twist. Jase Harley fans thought the hit track was too close to his 2016 song “American Pharaoh.” Donald’s manager initially refuted the claims on Twitter claiming the song was three years old, but the tweet was later deleted. Jase himself has weighed in on the controversy via Twitter saying, “I feel extremely humbled to be recognized and labeled as one or the original inspirations for one of the most important pieces of music and visual art of our time. I appreciate all the love and support! But PLEASE DON’T let this controversy dilute the message me and @childishgambino are trying to convey. We are speaking about injustices we’ve encountered and he’s helped to provide a platform for all our voices to be heard.” Looks like he won’t be pursuing legal action.
“Viva La Vida” / “If I Could Fly”
Who hasn’t belted out Coldplay‘s “Viva La Vida”? You likely know the lyrics, but did you know guitarist Joe Satriani sued the band over the song because he thought it infringed on the copyright for his 2004 song “If I Could Fly”? The case was eventually dismissed and everything was kept hush-hush about whether any monetary settlement was reached. One doesn’t just pick a fight with Coldplay for no reason, so Joe must’ve felt like he had some pretty solid evidence.
“Creep” / “The Air That I Breathe”
Plagiarism accusations happen across all genres of music and throughout all decades. Radiohead found themselves in a legal battle thanks to their 1993 track “Creep.” Songwriters Mike Hazelwood and Albert Hammond sued the band for sampling their track “The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies. They successful sued and are now listed as co-writers, receiving half the royalties.
“Thinking Out Loud” / “Let’s Get It On”[Insert your own joke about thinking and writing here.] “Thinking Out Loud” was one of Ed Sheeran‘s many smash hits. But, the 2014 track has come under fire. As of June 2018, Ed has been slapped with a $100 million lawsuit which alleges he borrowed too heavily from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” to come up with this track. This isn’t the first time that the song’s been at the center of plaigarism accusations – the first was by the Townsend estate (the heirs of Marvin’s co-writer), and the second by Structured Asset Sales, a company that owns one-third of the rights to Gaye’s iconic track. The first lawsuit didn’t go so well for the Townsends, but who knows how this one could pan out.
“Ice Ice Baby” / “Under Pressure”
“Ice Ice Baby” and “Under Pressure” are both extremely well known songs today despite them coming out decades ago. So, you can imagine what happened when Vanilla Ice released his track in 1990 and Queen thought that it sounded strikingly similar to their 1982 hit, which was co-written by David Bowie. When talk of lawyers became involved, the matter was settled out of court and Queen and Bowie were given songwriting credits. What’s interesting is that as of 2021, Vanilla Ice claims to have “bought” the song “Under Pressure.
“Roar” / “Brave”
There was some growling when Katy Perry released “Roar” in 2013 because some thought it sounded a trifle like Sara Bareilles‘s 2013 song “Brave.” While social media might have highlighted the similarities, the interesting thing about this was that Sara went on record saying she didn’t think any copying was involved. She explained that she and Katy are friends and thought both songs shared the theme of empowerment, but there wasn’t any stealing. She said, “I don’t feel like anything was taken from me artistically. I wasn’t the one having any problems with it.”
“All About That Base” / “Happy Mode”
It’s unfortunate when someone’s big debut song is embroiled in a copyright controversy, but that’s what happened when Meghan Trainor released “All About That Base” in 2014. A K-Pop band called Koyote thought it was ripping off their 2006 track “Happy Mode.” There was talk of lawyers intervening, but it seems that nothing ever became of it. As you don’t need us to tell you, the trouble didn’t hurt Meghan’s career.
“Girlfriend” / “Hey Mickey” / “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”
Avril Lavigne might not have stolen anyone’s boyfriend (despite saying she really didn’t like your girlfriend), but did she steal a song? That was the question that came forth when “Girlfriend” was released in 2010. And this one is a two-parter. The song was first accused of ripping off Toni Basil‘s 1982 jam “Hey Mickey.” Things got worse when The Rubinoos actually sued Avril because they thought it was ripping off their 1979 song “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Things were eventually settled out of court, but we’ll admit we hear the “Girlfriend” and “Hey Mickey” overlap.
“Stay With Me” / “I Won’t Back Down”
Sam Smith is known for his sad songs, but the sadness involving his 2014 debut “Stay With Me” didn’t just have to do with the lyrics. Some had a sense of déjà vu that the song was like 1989’s “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Tom Petty and Sam “quietly” reached an agreement with Tom insisting there were “no hard” feelings. Despite Sam reportedly saying he had never heard the song, he agreed to give Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne a co-writing credit based on “I Won’t Back Down.” They even released a joint statement about it.
“Born This Way” / “Express Yourself”
Lady Gaga‘s “Born This Way” has been an empowering song for many since its release in 2011. It’s too bad that the positive message of the song was tainted slightly by the fact some thought it copied Madonna‘s “Express Yourself.” For the record, Gaga denied any wrongdoing and Madge never did anything about it, but do you hear the similarities?
“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” / “Taj Mahal”
Rod Stewart‘s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” from 1978 is one of the older songs to appear on the “accused” side of the list. But, it’s a classic song that people still love to belt out during karaoke today. Those who weren’t around when it dropped likely missed the drama that it took inspiration from 1976’s “Taj Mahal” by Jorge Ben. In an interesting end result, Jorge sued and the profits of the song ended up going to UNICEF.
“One Last Time” / “Takes All Night”
You can add Ariana Grande to the list of singers accused of ripping off other artists. The trouble stemmed from her 2014 song “One Last Time.” Songwriter Alex Greggs claimed Ariana and producer David Guetta borrowed too heavily from his 2012 track “Takes All Night” which he wrote for EDM artist Skye Stevens, so much that he decided to sue. This all apparently happened after he sent many “cease and desist” letters to Ariana and Universal Music Group that went ignored.
“Blurred Lines” / “Got to Give it Up”
The summer of 2013 will forever be remembered as the year of “Blurred Lines.” The song by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell was pretty much played every hour, everywhere. It was a smash hit but not without controversy because Marvin Gaye‘s family thought it was a dead ringer for his 1977 song “Got To Give It Up.” Courts actually originally ruled in favor Gaye’s family with Pharrell and Robin Thicke ordered to pay up $7.4 million. The artists appealed the decision and the court agreed to slash the payment to $5.3 million. But, under the new ruling, 50 percent of royalties would have to go to the family. And T.I. was now included in the suit. He was previously left out.