This article was originally published in May 2014. It’s being reposted in light of a copyright infringement lawsuit being brought against Skrillex and Justin Bieber for their hit song “Sorry”.
“Mrs. Simpson, don’t you worry. I watched Matlock in a bar last night. The sound wasn’t on, but I think I got the gist of it. ” –Lionel Hutz
Nothing really comes from scratch anymore, and music is no exception. The first thing bands talk about when they form are their influences, and they typically start off by (and never really stop) playing other people’s music. Entire genres, like folk, blues, and hip-hop, are based upon liberal borrowing out of either tradition or necessity. Simply put, every artist you love, no matter how unique, innovative, and game changing they may be, stands on the proverbial shoulders of giants.
As a society, we’ve gotten used to dismissing our appropriating ways by saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; however, this week’s developments reminded us that there can be a rather thin and blurry line between flattery and thievery. Led Zeppelin are facing a potential copyright infringement lawsuit accusing the band of stealing parts of their canonical “Stairway to Heaven” from former touring mates Spirit. We also learned that Bob Dylan, rock’s poet laureate, may be just as adept at borrowing phrases as turning them. Even our own Luke Bradley, while commemorating the 20-year anniversary of Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, noted that the influential British band almost couldn’t get through a song without “referencing” (to be polite) The Beatles or other bands.
So, in the spirit of a week in which the theme seems to be “Simpsons did it!”, we offer up 10 famous instances of alleged music plagiarism. Some cases went to court. Others got shrugged off. Sometimes we think we’re listening to the same song twice. Other times we just don’t hear it that way. So, go ahead, listen, and decide for yourself.