11 famous Musicians Accused of Stealing Their Hit Songs
In today’s age of music and art, it’s not as easy as you might think to produce a brand new song without being accused of plagiarizing another artist. Virtually every topic has already been covered in a song, and there are only so many note combinations, which can make it difficult to create a song that is completely different from everything else.
When artists are accused of plagiarism, it results in costly legal battles to resolve the issue. Needless to say, you don’t want this to happen. If you think it just happens to newcomers, think again. Here are 30 top musicians accused of stealing their hit songs.
Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”
In some cases, songwriters are baseless accused of stealing a song. That’s what happened to Lady Gaga, who was accused of stealing her 2011 hit single “Born This Way” from Madonna’s 1989 song “Express Yourself.” After Gaga’s song was released, fans took immediate issue with the single. How could the one and only Lady Gaga steal from another iconic female artist?
That’s because she didn’t. Although the songs might seem similar, they are not the same, and Gaga dismissed any claims that she ripped off one of her idols. She even poked fun at the plagiarism claims on an episode of Saturday Night Live. There’s no need to criticize Gaga. She is nothing but professional and artistic.
Katy Perry, “Roar”
When Katy Perry released her single “Roar” in 2013, fans wondered if she stole parts of the song from Sara Bareilles’ track “Brave,” released earlier that year. The songs have similar messages and titles, and no one would blame fans for wondering about Perry’s originality.
Of course, there’s nothing to worry about. When news spread about the possible copyright infringement, Bareilles spoke up about the rumor. She listened to the song and insisted it was okay. She commented, “I don’t feel like anything was taken from me artistically. I’ve known Katy a long time. We are friends, and she and I spoke about it. I look at it as two female artists who are releasing a message of empowerment.”
Sam Smith, “Stay with Me”
Sam Smith’s 2014 single “Stay with Me” was an instant classic, but unfortunately, it appears the song ripped off another classic — Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1989 tune “I Won’t Back Down.” Petty’s publishers contacted Smith after hearing the similarities between the two songs. Before his passing in 2017, Petty commented, “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen.”
Smith defends his argument that he had never even heard Petty’s anthem when he was writing his 2014 single. Ultimately, both parties reached an out-of-court agreement to list both “I Won’t Back Down” writers, Petty and Jeff Lynne, as co-writers of Smith’s song. Petty added, “Let me say, I have never had any hard feelings toward Sam.”
Avril Lavigne, “Girlfriend”
In the early 2000s, Avril Lavigne was one of the most popular alternative female singers, but her 2007 song “Girlfriend” has been accused of being a direct copy of The Rubinoos’ 1979 single “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Lyrically, the songs are very similar. Lavigne’s song has also been compared to Toni Basil’s 1982 famous classic “Mickey,” mostly due to the semi-annoying “Hey” chants.
Lavigne had to settle the case in court, and the song now has to be properly credited to the original songwriters. Because of the news, The Rubinoos gained some new fame. Now, if only Lavigne could also return to stardom.
One Direction, “Live While We’re Young”
Maybe One Direction should focus on living like they wrote original songs. The group’s 2012 song “Live While We’re Young” has been accused of stealing from The Clash’s 1982 smash success “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” When you listen to both songs, it’s obvious One Direction was perhaps recording a parody of The Clash’s original song.
No formal accusations have been made against One Direction, even though member Harry Styles admitted the similarities between the songs were “kind of on purpose.” As other artists believe, it’s okay to be inspired by other songs, as long as you credit the original musician.
Led Zeppelin, “Whole Lotta Love”
The members of Led Zeppelin found themselves in another legal battle with their 1969 hit “Whole Lotta Love.” Blues musician Willie Dixon sued the band for copyright infringement of his 1963 single “You Need Love,” a song recorded by Muddy Waters. The case was settled out of court, and Dixon received full writing credit for the song.
Led Zeppelin member Robert Plant admitted he stole the song. He said, “I just thought, ‘Well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick.” Plant added that the case was happily paid, perhaps glad the situation had been resolved fairly quickly.
Nirvana, “Come As You Are”
Kurt Cobain admitted he wasn’t the most original musical artist. He point blank said he stole the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Boston’s song “More Than a Feeling.” However, Nirvana was also accused of stealing the 1991 song “Come As You Are” from Killing Joke’s 1985 single “The Eighties.” Killing Joke claimed the main riff in Nirvana’s song was too similar to their rock song.
Coldplay, “Viva La Vida”
Coldplay was involved in a complex legal case in 2008 over their hit single “Viva La Vida.” Guitarist Joe Satriani claimed Coldplay copied “substantial original portions” of his 2004 instrumental song “If I Could Fly.”
“I spent so long writing the song, thinking about it, loving it, nursing it and then finally recording it,” Satriani recalled. “Then somebody comes along and plays the exact same song and calls it their own.” Coldplay claimed they had never heard Satriani’s song. Less than a year later, the case was dismissed and reportedly settled. Under the terms of dismissal, Coldplay doesn’t have to report any wrongdoing.
Ed Sheeran, “Photograph”
It might come as a shock to some fans that Ed Sheeran’s 2014 single “Photograph” wasn’t entirely original. It’s a beautiful love song, but songwriters Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard accused Sheeran of plagiarizing the song “Amazing,” recorded by English singer Matt Cardle. This wasn’t good news for Sheeran.
Ultimately, Sheeran handled the case with care, pleading guilty to “verbatim, note-for-note copying.” He agreed to pay $20 million in copyright damages, and the case was privately settled. Although the song was stolen, “Photograph” is still a beautiful love ballad worth playing. Hopefully, Sheeran learned his lesson.
Justin Bieber, “Sorry”
Apparently, Justin Bieber had to say “sorry” for allegedly plagiarizing his 2015 hit single “Sorry.” Singer Casey Dienel, who performs under the name White Hinterland, filed a lawsuit against Bieber, claiming Bieber’s song had a vocal loop that contained “unique characteristics of the female vocal riff” in her 2014 single “Ring the Bell.”
Dienel claimed that Bieber and his team of writers and producers didn’t obtain the proper license to exploit her work. She remarked, “Like most artists that sample music, Bieber could have licensed my song for use in ‘Sorry,’ but he chose not to contact me.” However, Dienel has dismissed the lawsuit since then.
Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, “Uptown Funk”
In 2018, everyone was listening to Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s hit single “Uptown Funk.” It was a song that made you want to stand up and dance — but it may not have been original. The Gap Band filed a copyright claim, claiming the song bears similarities to their 1979 single “Oops Upside Your Head.”
It’s obvious Mars is influenced by funk songs of the 1970s and 1980s, but plagiarism is never okay. After The Gap Band filed the copyright claim, a lengthy lawsuit ensued. It was ultimately determined that The Gap Band would receive a 17 percent share of Mars’ and Ronson’s hit song.