Just a rip-off? Plagiarism in music
A jury concluded that Ed Sheeran did not copy Marvin Gaye's 1973 R&B hit "Let's Get It On." Here are other high-profile cases of alleged plagiarism.
Ed Sheeran vs. Marvin Gaye
Ed Sheeran's 2014 hit "Thinking Out Loud" uses a very common pop song chord progression, which can also be found in Marvin Gaye's legendary "Let's Get It On." The heirs of Ed Townsend, the co-writer of the Gaye classic, sued the British pop star for copyright infringement. A jury decided in Sheeran's favor; he had already won in a similar copyright suit in 2022 over his song "Shape of You."
Childish Gambino vs. Kidd Wes
With its scathing commentary on racial inequality, police brutality and gun violence, "This Is America" made history in 2019 by becoming the first rap song to win a Grammy Award for best song and best record. Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, was later sued for allegedly lifting its "lyrical theme, content and structure" from a song by rapper Kidd Wes. The case was dismissed in March 2023.
Nicki Minaj vs. Tracy Chapman
In court documents made public on January 7, 2021, rapper Nicki Minaj was forced to pay $450,000 (€369,000) to singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman for ripping off Chapman's song "Baby Can I Hold You" in her tune "Sorry." Minaj's team had repeatedly asked for permission but was turned down. Eventually, however, the song was leaked on the radio and became a hit.
Led Zeppelin vs. Spirit
"Stairway To Heaven" is one of the most popular songs in rock music history. But was it really written by Jimmy Page (center right) and Robert Plant (center left)? The heirs of Randy Wolfe, singer and guitarist of the band Spirit, expressed strong doubts in 2014. On March 9, 2020, a US appeals court reinstated a ruling that Led Zeppelin did not steal "Stairway to Heaven" from Wolfe.
Lana Del Rey vs. Radiohead vs. The Hollies
It can't be denied that Lana Del Rey's song "Get Free" sounds a lot like "Creep," Radiohead's famous hit. The band, therefore, wanted writers' credits on the song. Ironically, some parts of "Creep" have been copied as well, namely from The Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" from 1974. In this case, the two bands came to an out-of-court settlement.
Sam Smith vs. Tom Petty
The music industry has been haunted by numerous plagiarism controversies in recent years. In 2014, Sam Smith's "Stay With Me" triggered some uproar. The song was said to have been inspired by Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." Rock legend Petty, who died in 2017, then obtained some of the royalties. But he wasn't angry, stating that the similarities may have occurred incidentally.
Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams vs. Marvin Gaye
Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were less lucky. After it turned out that their successful hit "Blurred Lines" was a rip-off of Marvin Gaye's song "Got to Give It Up," they had to dig deep into their pockets. In 2013, they had to pay roughly $7 million to Gaye's heirs, even though they continued to deny that they had copied Gaye's song.
Moses Pelham & Sabrina Setlur vs. Kraftwerk
In one case, just two seconds of sound resulted in a 20-year lawsuit that raised the question: Where does plagiarism start, especially in the digital era? Music producer Moses Pelham sampled two seconds of the beat of "Metall auf Metall," a hit by the German band Kraftwerk, for the song "Nur mir" by rapper Sabrina Setlur. The case ended up before the European Court of Justice.
Shakira vs. Ramon Arias Vasquez
Yet another pop star accused of plagiarism is Shakira. In 2014, a US federal court came to the conclusion that her hit "Loca" was an illegal copy of the song "Loca con su Tiguere" by Ramon Arias Vasquez from the Dominican Republic. Several million records of Shakira's "Loca" were sold all over the world.