Musical Plagiarism—Or Not

blessmycottonsocks

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Dec 22, 2014
Messages
4,083
Reaction score
6,426
Points
209
Location
Wessex and Mercia
In the latest twist to this seemingly never ending legal case, judges have declared that the descending chromatic chords at the start of Led Zeppelin's iconic Stairway to Heaven were not plagiarised from Spirit's Taurus:

https://www.theguardian.com/comment...led-zeppelin-verdict-a-victory-for-creativity

I doubt we've heard the end of this saga yet though as, we all know that there's a lawyer who knows all that glitters is gold....

Any other good examples of (alleged) musical plagiarism you can think of?
 

Yithian

Parish Watch
Staff member
Joined
Oct 29, 2002
Messages
28,922
Reaction score
33,615
Points
309
Location
East of Suez
In the latest twist to this seemingly never ending legal case, judges have declared that the descending chromatic chords at the start of Led Zeppelin's iconic Stairway to Heaven were not plagiarised from Spirit's Taurus:

https://www.theguardian.com/comment...led-zeppelin-verdict-a-victory-for-creativity

I doubt we've heard the end of this saga yet though as, we all know that there's a lawyer who knows all that glitters is gold....

Any other good examples of (alleged) musical plagiarism you can think of?
Too many to mention, but in the interest of defending Led Zeppelin, Whitesnake's Judgment Day is a heavily plagiarised version of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir.

There have been a few high-profile legal cases recently, which basically demonstrate that, like poetry before it, borrowing, copying and reworking is part and parcel of what musicians have done for much of history. The 'crime', such as there is one, is to fail to do so artfully.

It seems odd that you have U.S. courts ruling that this or that chord sequence 'belongs to' a songwriter when the U.S. has such robust protections for visual artworks that are deemed (exceedingly loosely) to be transformative.

I fail to see how you can (though not in this case) find that a few bars have been 'stolen' from another writer, yet a rap-artist can 'sample' an artists actual recording of his instrument or voice with impunity.
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2005
Messages
6,146
Reaction score
8,477
Points
294
Ok I was being a bit harsh on Jimmy Page there. Read 'unconsciously borrowed' instead of 'nicked'.


I fail to see how you can (though not in this case) find that a few bars have been 'stolen' from another writer, yet a rap-artist can 'sample' an artists actual recording of his instrument or voice with impunity.
Is it all down to writing credits and paid royalties? Some Led Zep riffs are blatant copies of other songs but are credited to Page/Plant/Bonham/Jones. If I recall correctly, Portishead, for example, listed all of the sample credits they used on their debut. (Just checked - yes they did).

It seems odd that you have U.S. courts ruling that this or that chord sequence 'belongs to' a songwriter
I agree with you about chord sequences - there are only so many combinations that can be made.
 

stu neville

Commissioner.
Staff member
Joined
Mar 9, 2002
Messages
11,723
Reaction score
4,743
Points
234
Any other good examples of (alleged) musical plagiarism you can think of?
There's kind of a food-chain in one string of examples. One of the most celebrated was George Harrison and "My Sweet Lord", which it was alleged ripped off "He's So Fine" by Ronnie Mack. TL : DR it ended up with Harrison buying Mack's publishers. Harrison himself advised the late Neil Innes when the latter was composing The Rutles numbers to ensure that Innes didn't stray over the line into unconscious plagiarism. Whereas the individual Beatles didn't mind at all, Apple Corps (over whom by then they had no control) had a gun locked and loaded for the merest whiff of derivation on Innes' part. And then, Innes found his own "How Sweet To Be An Idiot" being ripped off by Oasis with "Whatever" - he sued, and ended up with a co-writing credit and associated royalties.
 

blessmycottonsocks

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Dec 22, 2014
Messages
4,083
Reaction score
6,426
Points
209
Location
Wessex and Mercia
Good call for the Neil Innes case - and much kudos to the late great Urban Spaceman for successfully winning the recognition he deserved over the Oasis melody.

The most blatant example I can think of is The Eagles, who used to be a support band for Jethro Tull.
They parted company with Tull, but took one of Tull's classic songs (We Used to Know) with them and tweaked it a bit into Hotel California.
 

dejanmikic

Ephemeral Spectre
Joined
May 5, 2009
Messages
401
Reaction score
411
Points
79
Location
Bauhaus Town
There is always indie darlings Elastica who stole everything from the Stranglers. And I think it was official that Guns of Brixton was used by Beats Int's "Dub Be Good To Me"
 

Swifty

doesn't negotiate with terriers
Joined
Sep 15, 2013
Messages
27,681
Reaction score
37,560
Points
284
Ray Parker Jnr who was taken to court by Huey Lewis & The News because they felt he'd ripped off some riffs for Ghostbusters from their tune I Want A Knew Drug. I've never been convinced with their claim ..

Here's the two tunes for comparison


A mashup

 
Last edited:

Yithian

Parish Watch
Staff member
Joined
Oct 29, 2002
Messages
28,922
Reaction score
33,615
Points
309
Location
East of Suez
Is it all down to writing credits and paid royalties? Some Led Zep riffs are blatant copies of other songs but are credited to...
Most of the blues reworkings are on Led Zeppelin I & II and since the 90s have been re-credited with a handful of other writers. Zeppelin aren't short a bob or two and have supposedly (details undisclosed) settled with right-holders.

The truth is that many of those blues artists borrowed licks and phrases from even earlier artists who have faded into the mists of history.
 

Ogdred Weary

Resurrectionist
Joined
Apr 2, 2012
Messages
3,750
Reaction score
6,467
Points
209
Radiohead, or at least their legal representation threatened to sue Lana Del Rey in 2018 over her allegedly stealing the verse melody from Creep. The twist is that The Hollies had successfully sued Radiohead for stealing the same melody from The Air that I Breathe in the 90s.
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,538
Reaction score
5,823
Points
309
I suspect in many cases it's cryptomnesia rather than conscious plagiarism. Personally, whenever I write a tune I'm really pleased with it's only a matter of time before I work out that somebody else wrote it first and it's just resurfaced from the back of my mind.

Ian Anderson doesn't particularly regard hotel California as a ripoff, because there are only do many chord sequences in music and even fewer that sound good, so it's inevitable that some will crop up more than once.
 

Lord Lucan

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Feb 17, 2017
Messages
2,358
Reaction score
6,078
Points
204
The Verve had their run in (now resolved) with The Rolling Stones over 'Bittersweet Symphony'.

According to Wikipedia: "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is a song by English alternative rock band the Verve. It is the lead track on their third studio album, Urban Hymns (1997). It is based on a sample it uses from the Andrew Loog Oldham orchestral cover of the Rolling Stones' song "The Last Time", and involved some legal controversy surrounding a plagiarism charge. As a result, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were added to the songwriting credits, and all royalties from the song went to former Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein. In April 2019, Jagger and Richards signed over all their publishing for the song to The Verve.[3] "Bitter Sweet Symphony" was released in June 1997 by Hut Recordings as the first single from the album, reaching number two on the UK Singles Chart and stayed in the chart for three months.[4]

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitter_Sweet_Symphony
 

JamesWhitehead

Piffle Prospector
Joined
Aug 2, 2001
Messages
12,901
Reaction score
11,055
Points
309
The Polly Copyright case of 1923 is well worth reading.

Complicated by the fact that the tunes themselves were traditional - an early form of sampling? The Columbia Graphophone Company had pipped the "official" version of HMV, getting their records in the shops first. Columbia's director-of-music, responsible for the rip-off score, was Albert Ketélby, once-celebrated composer of such gems as In a Monastery Garden and In a Persian Market! :thought:
 

blessmycottonsocks

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Dec 22, 2014
Messages
4,083
Reaction score
6,426
Points
209
Location
Wessex and Mercia
I suspect in many cases it's cryptomnesia rather than conscious plagiarism. Personally, whenever I write a tune I'm really pleased with it's only a matter of time before I work out that somebody else wrote it first and it's just resurfaced from the back of my mind.

Ian Anderson doesn't particularly regard hotel California as a ripoff, because there are only do many chord sequences in music and even fewer that sound good, so it's inevitable that some will crop up more than once.

I remember seeing Tull at Guildford Civic Hall decades ago and Ian Anderson did comment quite wittily on The Eagles pinching his song.
Tull subsequently did We Used to Know and, cheekily, extended the guitar outro, making it sound exactly like The Eagles version and even imitating Joe Walsh's mannerisms.

 

cycleboy2

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Dec 22, 2005
Messages
1,329
Reaction score
2,884
Points
169
In the latest twist to this seemingly never ending legal case, judges have declared that the descending chromatic chords at the start of Led Zeppelin's iconic Stairway to Heaven were not plagiarised from Spirit's Taurus:

https://www.theguardian.com/comment...led-zeppelin-verdict-a-victory-for-creativity

I doubt we've heard the end of this saga yet though as, we all know that there's a lawyer who knows all that glitters is gold....

Any other good examples of (alleged) musical plagiarism you can think of?
I listened to one of the American legal experts who was involved with the case and he was shocked to the core by the outcome. It was on Radio 5 yesterday at about 5.50pm. Apparently the case wasn't judged on how alike the two pieces sounded but on the notation of the music as presented to the US copyright office - notation that may have been taken by those who weren't necessarily trained in the job and which may be drastically different to the released music. He thinks this could have serious repercussions. I don't feel this is the end of it...

Incidentally, I saw Spirit live in Bristol in 1982, supported by Inner City Unit, the band of Nik Turner (of Hawkwind fame). Randy California certainly knew how to play guitar (like Ziggy...).
 

CarlosTheDJ

Antediluvian
Joined
Feb 1, 2007
Messages
6,276
Reaction score
6,729
Points
294
Location
Sussex
There's an important distinction between plagiarism and sampling. For example, early Beastie Boys and Grandmaster Flash tracks are stuffed full of drum breaks and basslines pinched from classic rock songs....but they can still be sold with impunity as they were released before copyright legislation caught up with sampling technology.

Try getting away with that Levee drum loop on your track nowadays and the ghost of Bonham will kick seven shades out of ya (via a long-winded court process).
 

hunck

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 13, 2011
Messages
4,913
Reaction score
6,517
Points
209
Location
Hobbs End
I just listened to Taurus for the first time. Only a small chord progression in the track is similar to Stairway. The rest is completely different. Bloody lawyers eh.. I liked Spirit - especially the Randy California stuff. One of those west coast bands that never really hit the big time but made some good records.

There's a difference between 'inspired/influenced by' & plagiarism. Led Zep in their early days stepped over the line where they outright nicked not only riffs but lyrics. OK they settled up eventually.

I'd say Phil Collins Sussulio was 'heavily influenced' by Prince's 1999 as was 'Start' by the Jam by The Beatles 'Taxman' though neither were outright plagiarism taken as a whole.

Every musician/songwriter borrows/nicks/is inspired by stuff they've heard, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. It's the nature of the beast.
 

sherbetbizarre

Special Branch
Joined
Sep 4, 2004
Messages
4,011
Reaction score
2,612
Points
184
Neither a sample or "possible" plagiarism, rapper Schoolly D reworked Rudy Ray Moore's 'Signifying Monkey' and brazenly rerecorded Led Zep's Kashmir into the bargain-

NSFW!


This went unnoticed until Abel Ferrara used the track throughout his 1992 movie Bad Lieutenant-- Jimmy Page then took legal action and got the track removed from all post-theatrical versions, much to Ferrara's annoyance. And mine, as I already had the album from which it came from, and loved the movie in the cinema. Now you could argue it's a bit rich when Zeppelin lifted so many Blues riffs in their early days... but what is unforgivable is when Page, having obliterated one classic Rap/Kashmir movie moment, went and did this...


:gobs:
 

Victory

Abominable Snowman
Joined
Jan 15, 2017
Messages
598
Reaction score
1,306
Points
134
Location
London
I fail to see how you can (though not in this case) find that a few bars have been 'stolen' from another writer, yet a rap-artist can 'sample' an artists actual recording of his instrument or voice with impunity.
Sampling was the Wild West at first.
There were some groups who managed to retroactively sue a Hip Hop artist for a sample...De La Soul had to pay The Turtles.
But things really changed 1990 - 1991 when Biz Markie sampled Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again" .

O'Sullivan got it blocked.

It eventually got released, but O'Sullivan got paid well.

And since then, there are dedicated lawyers and sample clearing houses who go through Hip Hop records with a fine toothcomb.
Artists usually submit a list of samples to their labels during production, and any samples that cannot be cleared or are too costly to clear, get changed.

That said, smaller independent artists releasing streamed stuff online can usually get away with things.


https://www.npr.org/sections/therec...biz-markie-got-the-last-laugh?t=1583975350964

https://www.amoeba.com/blog/2010/09...ie-that-changed-the-direction-of-hip-hop.html
 
Joined
Jul 31, 2005
Messages
6,146
Reaction score
8,477
Points
294
There's a difference between 'inspired/influenced by' & plagiarism. Led Zep in their early days stepped over the line where they outright nicked not only riffs but lyrics. OK they settled up eventually.
Did they settle up with Jake Holmes for 'Dazed and Confused'? On Allmusic.com Jimmy Page is still being credited as sole author. Fair enough, Led Zep did it much better and added a lot to the mix, but still.

It also has Page as composer of Black Mountain Side but I read somewhere that Al Stewart taught him how to play it (!)
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,538
Reaction score
5,823
Points
309
Zep had form for ripping off songs, two of the most egregious examples being 'Dazed and Confused' and 'Since I've been Loving You'
 

hunck

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 13, 2011
Messages
4,913
Reaction score
6,517
Points
209
Location
Hobbs End
Did they settle up with Jake Holmes for 'Dazed and Confused'? On Allmusic.com Jimmy Page is still being credited as sole author. Fair enough, Led Zep did it much better and added a lot to the mix, but still.

It also has Page as composer of Black Mountain Side but I read somewhere that Al Stewart taught him how to play it (!)
No idea. I'd not heard of Jake Holmes before - he even sounds a bit Plant-ish. Daylight robbery if they got away with that one..

Paul Simon nicked Martin Carthy's version of Scarborough Fair according to him. He showed Simon his picking pattern when he was touring the UK in 64/65.
 

hunck

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 13, 2011
Messages
4,913
Reaction score
6,517
Points
209
Location
Hobbs End
Yes the song's origin is unknown. It was Martin Carthy's guitar arrangement which Simon 'borrowed'. The song featured on Simon & Garfunkel's album & was then used in The Graduate. It generated a lot of royalties.

Carthy's music publisher brought a lawsuit against Simon & he agreed to settle for $20,000 on condition that Carthy got at least 50%.

Although he did use Carthy's arrangement, it turns out that Simon didn't make that much from it either.

Carthy reveals that it was the publisher who handled his lawsuit against Paul Simon who made the money. He had quietly copyrighted the song, effectively taking it over in the knowledge that Carthy had just signed away his claim. [how you can copyright a tradtitional song I don't know]

"Think how much that song has made," says Carthy, leaning back in his sofa and staring at the ceiling. "There was the original Simon & Garfunkel album, then the movie, then the soundtrack album, and of course the film went on to video and DVD, and it's repeated time and again on cable, satellite and terrestrial TV. Each time that song is played it's racking up royalties."
Story here.
 

AgProv

Master of Uncertainty and Doubt
Joined
Apr 6, 2014
Messages
657
Reaction score
982
Points
99
And Coldplay nicked the drum beat from "When the Levee Breaks" which Led Zep might have nicked from somebody else.... wheels within wheels.

Her's an interesting one: a parody of Kate Bush which when her lawyers heard of it, led them to screw the parodist, Peter Brewis, most royally. every repeat of the parody on the BBC or elsewhere now gets Kate the royalty and not PB, which seems a bit harsh!
 

hunck

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 13, 2011
Messages
4,913
Reaction score
6,517
Points
209
Location
Hobbs End
The When the Levee Breaks drums have been sampled quite a few times. It's so recognisable that you'd probably have to credit them.

Coldplay nicked part of a Kraftwerk track on one of their songs a while back. They probably similarly credited them as it was also very recognisable.
 

James_H

And I like to roam the land
Joined
May 18, 2002
Messages
7,538
Reaction score
5,823
Points
309
And Coldplay nicked the drum beat from "When the Levee Breaks" which Led Zep might have nicked from somebody else.... wheels within wheels.

Her's an interesting one: a parody of Kate Bush which when her lawyers heard of it, led them to screw the parodist, Peter Brewis, most royally. every repeat of the parody on the BBC or elsewhere now gets Kate the royalty and not PB, which seems a bit harsh!
It does make sense, the melody and chord progression are the same as Them Heavy People

 
Top