It’s hard to be original in this day and age, but some artists frequently cross the line from "being inspired by another musician" to "blatantly ripping them off." And it happens all the time — you probably just haven't noticed.
Although many of these artists get slapped with lawsuits, due to the finicky nature of copyright law, most cases are thrown out or settled out of court. At the end of the day, the best way to judge certain songs and determine if they were in fact plagiarized is to listen to the similarities yourself. Although there are tons of artists who have been accused of copying, the following tracks are, probably the most obvious. But beware — once you hear them, you might think differently about a few of your faves.
Katy Perry "Dark Horse"
Katy is just the latest artist to end up in court over a plagiarism charge, and a jury found this week in favor of the Christian rap artist Flame, real name Marcus Gray, and the two co-authors of his 2009 song "Joyful Noise." The jury found unanimously that Katy's 2014 hit was "substantially similar" in terms of the beat and instrumental elements throughout. The jury will next decide what penalty awaits Katy, her five co-writers on the track, and the corporations involved in producing and distributing the hit.
Robin Thicke and Pharrell "Blurred Lines"
The estate of Marvin Gaye accused the authors of 2013's biggest hit for its similarity to the "feel" and "sound of Marvin's "Got to Give It Up." In retaliation, Robin, Pharrell, and T.I. sued for a declaratory judgment. After a year and a half in court, a jury found Pharrell and Robin guilty of copyright infringement but not T.I. who only wrote the rap portion of the song. The writers continued to stand by their claim that the songs are totally different and appealed the decision, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in a 2018 ruling.
Led Zeppelin "Whole Lotta Love" (and many others)
Perhaps no artists are more known for stolen songs than Led Zeppelin. Several of the 1970s rock band's most iconic songs are inspired or straight up ripped off lesser known black blues artists that came before them. The most famous of these is "Whole Lotta Love," which takes a lot of its lyrics and a great deal of the melody from "You Need Love," recorded in 1962 by Muddy Waters and written by Willie Dixon. They lost a 1985 suit over the song
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were clearly fans of Willie Dixon's because several of their songs contain elements of the blues legend's work, such as "Bring It on Home," "You Shook Me," and "I Can't Quit You Baby."
Childish Gambino "This Is America"
When Childish Gambino first released "This Is America," it was a huge hit, breaking YouTube records and even trending on Twitter. But while everyone heaped praise on Donald Glover for his socially thought-provoking music, fans of New York rapper Jase Harley weren't buying it. For them, Donald's track sounded awfully familiar to Jase's "American Pharaoh." Obviously musicians are inspired by other musicians, but the similarities of the two tracks went far beyond that.
Donald's manager, Fam "Rothstein" Udeorji, rudely dismissed the accusations in a now-deleted tweet where he told his critics, "F--k you and your moms." Surprisingly, the person caught in the middle of the whole firestorm, Jase, was a great sport about the whole thing.
"I feel extremely humbled to be recognized and labeled as one of the original inspirations for one of the most important pieces of music and visual art of our time," he wrote on Instagram. "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. Let’s not discredit him for that!"Wow, talk about taking the high road.
One Direction "Midnight Memories"
One Direction's fans probably aren't old enough to know the band's 2014 hit song sounds just like Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me." However, though the two songs have striking similarities (you can pretty much hum one song on top of the other), Def Leppard said they weren't pursuing legal action. "The One Direction one is very similar in structure, but it’s all good," Def Leppard's guitarist Phil Collen said. It's a good thing the '80s rock band was so cool about the whole thing because, if they'd taken the issue to court, they probably would've won.
Coldplay "Viva La Vida"
In addition to just being a really awful song (sorry, Coldplay fans), the British band's smash 2012 hit wasn't even original. It bared a striking resemblance to Joe Satriani's instrumental track, "If I Could Fly." He sued the band, but his suit got thrown out of court. However, if you compare the two tracks, they sound pretty much the same.
The band later released a statement saying that any similarities between the two songs were "purely coincidental." However, since Coldplay is the go-to band for boring, generic music, they've been accused of plagiarism a few times. "We're definitely good, but I don't think you can say we're that original," Chris Martin admitted to Rolling Stone. "I regard us as being incredibly good plagiarists." Well, at least he's honest.
Green Day’s “Warning”
Green Day is another serial offender when it comes to alleged plagiarism, but let's focus on "Warning," since it's the most obvious. Many think the 2000 song sounds just like The Kinks’ "Picture Book." Despite their many songs that sound like other songs, Green Day has never responded to any accusations, and somehow they've managed to avoid any lawsuits. Strange.
Avril Lavigne "Girlfriend"
Hey, since we're on the subject of wannabe punk music, let's focus on pop-punk princess Avril for a second. Her obnoxiously popular track "Girlfriend" was everywhere back in 2007, and it was the first big hit since her Let Go days. However, '70s rock band the Rubinoos said the song was a rip-off of their song, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend." Both tracks have the same chorus with "girlfriend" used in place of "boyfriend."
The Rubinoos sued, but the case was settled out of court (in other words, they got paid to shut up and sit down somewhere). Avril maintains that she never heard the song.
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”
Contrary to popular belief, the immensely popular "Uptown Funk" is not a Bruno Mars song; it's a Mark Ronson song. And back in 2016, he was sued three times by various bands for jacking their tracks. An '80s girl band named The Sequence claimed Mark copied their 1979 song "Funk You Up." Another '80s funk band called Collage also threw their hats into the legal pool, and not to be left out, Roger and Zapp, who produced the ‘80s classic “More Bounce to the Ounce,” also decided to sue. Considering “Uptown Funk” was inspired by old funk music, obviously the inspiration would have to come from somewhere, right?
To date, two out of three of the lawsuits were settled out of court. Turns out having a hit song can be a costly legal liability.
Accusations of plagiarism can even hit critically acclaimed artists. Their classic 1993 hit was actually lifted from The Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe." When the band sued, Radiohead relented and added The Hollies as co-writers of the song. Although both songs have completely different choruses, the verses sound exactly the same.
Lana Del Rey "Get Free"
Ironically, in 2018, Radiohead accused indie pop singer Lana Del Rey of ripping off “Creep” for her song, “Get Free.” And if that sounds absolutely nuts, Culture Club's Boy George would agree with you. “Radiohead were sued by The Hollies and now Radiohead are suing Lana Del Ray?” he tweeted at the time. “Utter madness!”
After backlash from fans, Radiohead’s publisher maintained that they weren’t suing, only asking Lana for acknowledgement (and a piece of those sweet, sweet royalties). The whole dispute was later settled.
Metallica "Enter Sandman"
So I already know what you're thinking. "You ruined 'Creep' for me and now you're going to ruin 'Enter Sandman' too??" Yep! And if that whole Napster scandal from way back when didn’t make them look like a band of jerks, this alleged plagiarism dispute will. Their classic 1991 hit was accused of copying EXCEL’s 1989 track “Tapping Into The Emotional Void."
If you really want to make your blood boil, in this old interview, Metallica shamelessly takes credit for creating the whole guitar riff themselves. And sure, there is a likelihood that it was one big coincidence, but…come on.
Nirvana "Come As You Are"
The standout track from 1991's Nevermind has an intro that sounds pretty similar to Killing Joke’s “Eighties.” It was later revealed in Eyewitness Nirvana: The Day-By-Day Chronicle that Kurt Cobain was aware of the similarities but opted to release it anyway. Killing Joke was planning on filing a lawsuit but pulled out after Kurt’s death.
However, today there are no hard feelings between the two bands. In 2013, Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven said they now joke about it. “Yeah, Dave [Grohl] and I had a few laughs about that over the past year or so,” he told Rolling Stone. “He mentioned it to me when I met him backstage at Pantera a couple of years back.”
Will.i.am "Let's Go" / Fergie "Fergalicious"
Let’s take a break from ruining your ‘90s alternative faves and switch back to hip-hop for a second. When it comes to plagiarism, hip-hop music is different since it's a genre that mostly relies on sampling, which is completely legal. Good artists can turn an old sample into something new and different — and then you have people like Will.i.am.
The Black Eyed Peas member and producer has been accused of plagiarism so many times, I honestly don't even know where to start. But for now, let's just focus on the only song he actually admitted to "accidentally" stealing. His track "Let's Go" is pretty much just DJ Arty's track "Rebound" with obnoxious rapping on top. Fans were furious and called him a "thief" when the song dropped.
"Arty is a dope producer so I wrote this song to 'Rebound' this last year," he admitted in 2013. "I got in touch with Arty and showed it to him, did a different version to it 'cause I asked him [to] make it newer 'cause I don't just wanna take your song and rap over it."
Except that's exactly what he did?! In the past, Will.i.am has also been accused of plagiarizing tracks like Black Eyed Peas' "Boom Boom Pow" and "I Gotta Feeling," but both those suits were thrown out in court. He’s also been accused of ripping off artists when producing music for other people. Fergie’s “Fergalicious," for example, sounds awfully similar to J.J. Fad's “Supersonic.”
George Harrison "My Sweet Lord"
This lawsuit set a lot of the legal precedent around copyright violation regarding popular music. a 1976 ruling found the former Beatle had "subconsciously" copied the melody of "He'sSo Fine," a 1960s hit written by Ronnie Mack and recorded by The Chiffons. The judge concluded that while he did not feel George intentionally stole from the doo-wap song, they were essentially "the very same song" with different lyrics, and that even unintentional copyright infringement is still against the law.