Before ‘Blurred Lines,’ famous copyright infringement cases

Former Beatle George Harrison’s 1971 “My Sweet Lord” was his first solo single.  It’s melody borrowed heavily from The Chiffon’s 1962 hit, “He’s So Fine.” The judge didn’t believe Harrison purposely stole the song, but found him guilty of “subconscious plagiarism.” Harrison paid $587,000.
Vanilla Ice’s 1990 breakout song, “Ice Ice Baby” sampled Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” without permission or consent. Ice altered the rhythm of the bass line, and the song went to number one on the U.S. charts. Vanilla Ice settled out of court with Queen and Bowie, for an undisclosed amount. The song has been re-released, with all the legal procedures followed.
Not all plagiarism cases are nasty. Earlier this year, Tom Petty’s publishers pointed out to Sam Smith’s people that the British soulster’s “Stay With Me” had a melody very similar to Petty’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down.” Smith agreed, and granted co-writing credit to Petty, before Smith’s tune won the 2015 Grammy for Song of the Year.
Long before Avril Lavigne was born, 70s power-pop group The Rubinoos had a minor, but influential hit with “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” When Lavigne released “Girlfriend” in 2007, Rubinoos founder Tommy Dunbar sued Lavigne and co-writer Dr. Luke. Lavigne wrote on MySpace she “had never heard this song in my life,” but ended up reaching an “undisclosed settlement” with the Rubinoos.
Ray Parker Jr. ain’t afraid of no ghost, but when Huey Lewis and the News sued,  he figured it made sense to give in. Lewis said “Ghostbusters” reeked of “I Want a New Drug” which was released earlier in 1984. Parker settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
When Creedence Clearwater Revival sued former singer John Fogerty, saying “The Old Man Down The Road” was a replica of CCR’s “Run Through The Jungle,” Fogerty was essentially being accused of plagiarizing himself. After hearing Fogerty play the song in court, the jury decided the songs weren’t the same, they just shared the same style. After CCR’s case was dismissed, Fogerty counter-sued and won.    
The Beatles always declared their love of Chuck Berry, but in 1973 Berry’s publishing company sued John Lennon, saying certain lines from “Come Together” were ripped from Berry’s 1956 song “You Can’t Catch Me.” As part of the settlement, Lennon agreed to record three songs by Berry’s publisher — including “You Can’t Catch Me” for his 1975 covers album “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
One of Rod Stewart’s biggest hits, “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” was clearly influenced by Brazilian musician Jorge Ben’s 1976 song “Taj Mahal.” After Ben sued, Stewart agreed to give a percentage of the song’s proceeds to UNICEF. In his autobiography, Stewart wrote “Clearly the melody had lodged itself in my memory and then resurfaced — unconscious plagiarism, plain and simple.”
Radiohead was successfully sued by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood, who said the band’s breakout hit “Creep” had similar chord progressions and vocal melodies to their “The Air that I Breathe.” The pair, who wrote the song made famous by The Hollies (and others) now have co-writer credit in Radiohead’s song.
Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam) sued the Flaming Lips saying the latter’s “Fight Test” was too similar to Stevens’ 1970 song “Father and Son.” Lips frontman Wayne Coyne has since acknowledged the band realized the similarities duriing the recording session. According to Coyne, “I do regret not contacting his record company and asking their opinion…I am ashamed. There is obviously a fine line between being inspired and stealing.” According to Fuse, Stevens now gets 75 percent of all royalties from the song.
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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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