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Drawing the line: Four famous copyright feuds

Drawing the line: Four famous copyright feuds
By Sarah Taylor
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Thicke and Williams are the latest in a line of musicians to be accused of plagiarism. But who preceded them? And were they any more successful in their legal battles?


They weren’t the first, and they probably won’t be the last.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams are the latest in the music industry to be convicted of plagiarising music. Parts of their 2013 hit ‘Blurred Lines’ were found to have been lifted from Marvin Gaye’s classic ‘Got To Give It Up’ and an LA court subsequently slapped them with a 7.4-million-dollar penalty.

So, where do judges draw the line? Were the other cases as open-and-shut, or were things a little more blurred? Here’s our selection of four famous copyright battles…

1. Queen and Bowie VS Vanilla Ice

We open proceedings with a cross-continental clash. In 1990, American rapper Vanilla Ice came ‘Under Pressure’ after sampling a song of the same name by British rock band Queen and singer David Bowie.

‘Ice, Ice Baby’ received a frosty reception from Bowie and the band, who said they hadn’t given consent for the melody to be used. They settled the case out of court, for an undisclosed amount.

2. Huey Lewis VS Ray Parker Jr

Who you gonna call? Not Huey Lewis, apparently.

In 1984, the musician brought a court case against ‘Ghostbusters’ singer Ray Parker Jr for allegedly infringing on his song ‘I Want A New Drug.’ The settlement agreement included a confidentiality clause, which Parker later successfully sued Lewis for breaking.

3. Chuck Berry VS The Beach Boys

‘Surfin’ USA’ left The Beach Boys riding a wave of national success, but drew attention of a different kind from singer-songwriter, Chuck Berry.

Brian Wilson was originally listed as the sole composer, although ‘Surfin’ USA’ was set to Berry’s melody ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’.

The Beach Boys’ 1963 hit was published by Berry’s publisher, Arc Music. Eventually, the band’s manager gave the copyright – including Wilson’s lyrics – to Arc Music.

Berry is now co-credited and receives some royalties from the track.

4. The Chiffons VS George Harrison

The Chiffons possibly didn’t think former Beatles guitarist George Harrison was ‘So Fine’ when he released ‘My Sweet Lord’ in 1970.

Harrison was taken to court because his first solo release was alleged to sound ‘similar’ to Ronnie Mack’s song ‘He’s So Fine’ – a 1963 hit for The Chiffons.

Despite his comment “99 percent of the popular music that can be heard is reminiscent of something or other,” Harrison was found to have subconsciously plagiarised the earlier tune and ordered to pay damages.

A long and complex court battle ensued, but the ex-Beatle’s legal load was lightened when he eventually bought the rights to ‘He’s So Fine.’

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