At the core of our next show, THE SONG OF SUMMER by Lauren Yee, is a question of authenticity of authorship of “the song of summer,” that song that is played relentlessly on the radio from May to Labor Day. As the old saying goes: there is no such thing as an original thought. Everyone from Shakespeare to the Beatles to Zeppelin has been accused of stealing ideas from those that came before them. We are all influenced by the world around us, and songwriters are no exception. But where is the line drawn between being influenced by something, and plagiarizing it?
The law states that anything that reflects a “minimal spark” of creativity and originality can be copyrightable, including melody, chord progression, rhythm and lyrics. In the event of a trial, the person claiming infringement must prove two things:
1) Access – that the infringer had heard, or could reasonably be presumed to have heard, the original song prior to writing their song; and
2) Substantial Similarity – that the average listener can tell that one song has been copied from the other. The more elements that the two works have in common, the more likely they are substantially similar.
In March 2015, a Los Angeles jury awarded Marvin Gaye’s children nearly $7.4 million after determining that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams plagiarized Gaye’s song GOT TO GIVE IT UP to create BLURRED LINES, the biggest song of 2013. The Gayes’ lawyer characterized Thicke and Williams as liars who went beyond merely being influenced by Marvin Gaye, and instead crossing the line into outright music plagiarism. Pharrell testified that he created the music for BLURRED LINES in an hour in 2012, and that Thicke added vocals afterward. Williams told jurors that Gaye’s music was part of the soundtrack of his youth, but that he didn’t use any of this music to create BLURRED LINES.
My guilty pleasure is that I collect the CD’s “Now That’s What I Call Music.” I have all 72 of them and have listened to pop music since WDGY during the Kennedy-Carter administrations, Hines and Berglund on WLOL through Reagan and Bush 1, Dave Ryan on KDWB through Clinton, Bush 2, Obama, and, soon, Pelosi. I listen to tomorrow’s oldies as I become today’s oldie. But with imitation being the highest form of flattery – it’s a crime in music. And it’s been rampant for a long time. Check it out:
Beyonce’s DRUNK IN LOVE plagiarized Mitsou’s BAJBA, BAJBA PELEM
Eminem’s RAP GOD plagiarized Hotstylz LOOKIN BOY
JayZ, Kanye, Frank West’s MADE IN AMERICA plagiarized Mike Dean’s MADE IN AMERICA
Katy Perry’s DARK HORSE plagiarized the Christian pop song JOYFUL NOISE
Sam Smith’s STAY WITH ME plagiarized Tom Petty’s I WON’T BACK DOWN
George Harrison’s MY SWEET LORD plagiarized The Chiffon’s HE’S SO FINE
The Stoke’s LAST NIGHT plagiarized Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ AMERICAN GIRL
Luke Bradley’s SHAKEMAKER plagiarized The New Seekers’ I’D LIKE TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING
The Beach Boys’ SURFIN’ USA plagiarized Chuck Berry’s SWEET LITTLE SIXTEEN
Ray Parker, Jr.’s GHOSTBUSTERS plagiarized Huey Lewis’ I WANT A NEW DRUG
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ DANI CALIFORNIA plagiarized Tom Petty’s MARY JANES LAST DANCE
Radiohead’s CREEP plagiarized The Hollies’ ALL THE AIR THAT I BREATHE
Demi Lovato’s STARS plagiarized Sleigh Bells’ INFINITY GUITARS
Nirvana’s COME AS YOU ARE plagiarized Killing Joke’s EIGHTIES
Will.i.am’s LET’S GO plagiarized DJ Arty’s REBOUND
Avril Lavigne’s BOYFRIEND plagiarized from The Rubinoo’s I WANNA BE YOUR BOYFRIEND
Justin Bieber’s BABY plagiarized Perla’s TREMENDO VACILAO
The Doors’ HELLO I LOVE YOU plagiarized The Kinks’ ALL DAY AND ALL OF THE NIGHT
Bruno Mars’ TREASURE plagiarized Breakbot’s BABY I’M YOURS
Katy Perry’s ROAR plagiarized Sarah Bareilles’ BRAVE
David Guetta’s PLAY HARD plagiarized Alice Deejay’s BETTER OFF ALONE
Miley Cyrus’ WE CAN’T STOP plagiarized Flurgon’s WE RUN THINGS
Meghan Traynor’s ALL ABOUT THAT BASS plagiarized Koyote’s HAPPY MODE
The Beatles COME TOGETHER plagiarized Chuck Berry’s YOU CAN’T CATCH ME!
JLo’s ON THE FLOOR plagiarized Kaoma’s LAMBADA
Rod Stewart’s DO YOU THINK I’M SEXY plagiarized Jorge Ben’s TAJ MAHAL
Michael Bolton’s LOVE IS A WONDERFUL THING plagiarized The Isley Brothers’ LOVE IS A WONDERFUL THING
De La Soul’s TRANSMITTING LIVE FROM MARS plagiarized The Turtles’ YOU SHOWED ME
Faith Hill’s and Tim McGraw’s THE REST OF OUR LIFE plagiarized Jasmine Ray’s WHEN I FOUND YOU
The Verve’s BITTERSWEET SYMPHONY plagiarized The Rolling Stones’ THE LAST TIME
Led Zeppelin allegedly ripped off everyone for every song, including The Yardbirds, Moby Grape, Muddy Waters, and Richie Valens! STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN even plagiarized Spirit’s TAURUS
And, of course
Vanilla Ice’s ICE ICE BABY plagiarized Queen and David Bowie’s UNDER PRESSURE and Robin Thicke’s BLURRED LINES plagiarized Marvin Gaye’s GOT TO GIVE IT UP
Other fabled copycats include Kid Rock, Flo Rida, Cee Lo Green, Coldplay, Pitbull, Jet, and Abba.
Listen to these in pairs and find the similarities. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0wsiLdPVWQ They’re easier to find than Waldo. Send me more that come to your mind!
And, by the way, I stole a lot of what I listed in this musing!