30 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.
Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, “Blurred Lines”
In 2016, Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were under fire for copyright infringement for allegedly copying Marvin Gaye’s 1977 single "Got to Give It Up" to create their 2013 hit single "Blurred Lines." Gaye’s family demanded the singer-songwriters pay for the infringement. In an interview, Thicke admitted he had drawn inspiration from Gaye’s single while producing "Blurred Lines."
Pharrell Williams, “Happy”
Pharrell Williams is regarded as a successful musician, but he isn’t a stranger to controversy and legal issues, especially when it comes to Marvin Gaye’s family. His hit single "Happy" was the most popular song in 2014, but not everyone was happy with it. The Gaye family claimed the song ripped off Gaye’s 1966 song "Ain’t That Peculiar."
Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven”
Legendary rock band Led Zeppelin had many successful songs in the 1970s, but none of them were as successful as the 1971 hit single "Stairway to Heaven." However, in 2016, Led Zeppelin was accused of plagiarizing the song "Taurus" by the 1960’s rock band Spirit. According to the band’s attorney, the opening of Led Zeppelin’s single steals shamefully from Spirit’s instrumental cut.
Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”
In some cases, songwriters are baselessly 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?
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.
Vanilla Ice, “Ice Ice Baby”
Vanilla Ice’s 1990 single "Ice Ice Baby" is one of the most famous hip-hop and rap songs of all time — but it’s not exactly original. The rapper famously used the bass line from Queen and David Bowie’s 1986 collaboration "Under Pressure." When you hear both songs, it’s impossible not to hear the blatant similarities.
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."
The Flaming Lips, “Fight Test”
The Flaming Lips might not be the most popular band on this list, but their 2002 single "Fight Test" has been accused of copyright infringement of the popular 1970 Cat Stevens’ single "Father and Son." Legal action was taken on the matter, with the claim stating the melody sounded like a direct copy of Stevens’ original song.
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.
Ray Parker, Jr., “Ghostbusters”
Who you gonna call? Plagiarism busters! In 1995, "Ghostbusters" singer Ray Parker, Jr. was accused of stealing the hit song from Huey Lewis & The News’ 1983 single "I Want a New Drug." The paranormal theme from the 1984 fantasy film Ghostbusters was guilty of copyright infringement, and Columbia Pictures agreed to a quiet out-of-court settlement.
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."
Rod Stewart, “Do Ya Think I'm Sexy”
Rock and Rock Hall of Fame legend Rod Stewart was accused of copyright infringement for his 1978 hit single "Do Ya Think I’m Sexy." Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor was confident Stewart’s saucy song stole pieces from his 1972 track "Taj Mahal." Ben Jor thought the melody and chorus in Stewart’s song were very similar to his own song.
George Harrison, “My Sweet Lord”
George Harrison was involved in one of the most notorious copyright infringement cases ever reported. His first solo single in 1976, "My Sweet Lord," was accused of plagiarizing The Chiffons’ 1963 hit "He’s So Fine." Could the lovely, sweet-natured George Harrison have actually done this?
The Beatles, “Come Together”
Modern-day musical artists are constantly accused of plagiarizing songs from The Beatles. You wouldn’t expect the iconic 1960’s rock band to be accused as well, but the group’s 1969 single "Come Together" was found to have borrowed heavily from Chuck Berry’s 1956 rock song "You Can’t Catch Me." The lyrics are very similar. When you compare both songs, it’s obvious The Beatles were familiar with Berry’s original song.
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."
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."
Michael Bolton, “Love Is a Wonderful Thing”
Love might be a wonderful thing, but you know what isn’t? Getting involved in a lengthy copyright infringement case. Just ask contemporary artist Michael Bolton, who was accused of stealing his 1991 single "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" from The Isley Brothers’ 1986 song of the same title. Bolton even ripped off the song title, which is a major no-no.
The Strokes, “Last Nite”
In 2001, The Strokes were accused of ripping off their single "Last Nite" from Tom Petty’s iconic 1976 song "American Girl." Petty had always been fairly easy going about bands borrowing material from his songs. He explained, "The truth is, I seriously doubt that there is any negative intent there."
In 1992, Radiohead’s "Creep" was accused of borrowing too many lyrics from Albert Hammond’s 1972 single "The Air That I Breathe." Hammond’s soft rock tune was a hit in 1974, but when he heard Radiohead’s hit song in 1992, he called his lawyer. The song was too similar to his own, and legal action followed.
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.
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.
Elastica’s 1992 single "Connection" was accused of plagiarizing Wire’s 1977 song "Three Girl Rhumba." Both rock bands previously admired each other’s work, but when Wire noticed the blatant similarities between their song and Elastica’s hit single, a legal case followed.
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.
Green Day, “Warning”
Many music fans consider Green Day to be the last good punk band in existence. They have produced many hit songs, including "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." However, it was their 2000 song "Warning" that caused trouble for the band. The song has been linked to The Kinks’ 1968 song "Picture Book."
Miley Cyrus, “We Can't Stop”
Miley Cyrus is no stranger to having her name slapped on the cover of tabloids. She’s probably used to notoriety by now. In 2013, the former Disney Channel star was involved in a $300 million copyright infringement lawsuit over her single "We Can’t Stop." Jamaican songwriter Michael May, who performs under the stage name Flourgon, claimed Cyrus’s song stole nearly 50 percent of his original song "We Run Things."
Carrie Underwood, “Game On”
Carrie Underwood is regarded as one of the sweetest, most humble artists in the music industry. So, it may come as a shock that her 2018 song "Game On," which features during Sunday Night Football, was accused of infringing on a song by singer Heidi Merrill. The song features a similar refrain and melody as a song Merrill had allegedly previously pitched to Underwood’s team.
One Direction, “Midnight Memories”
One Direction and Def Leppard sound like two completely different musical groups. When the British pop group One Direction released their single "Midnight Memories" in 2013, some music fans thought the song sounded too similar to Def Leppard's 1987 rock classic "Pour Some Sugar on Me." The songs were "too similar" in structure.
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.
Bon Jovi, “You Give Love a Bad Name”
Bon Jovi’s 1986 rock anthem "You Give Love a Bad Name" was one of the best songs of the decade. However, it turns out it wasn’t an original song. The single was a reworking of Bonnie Tyler’s 1986 song "If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man)." Tyler’s song didn’t perform well on the charts, but songwriter Desmond Child knew it would work with another voice — Jon Bon Jovi.
The Beach Boys, “Surfin' USA”
How can it be possible that one of the best bands of all time was involved in a copyright case? This 1960's group had many successful hits over multiple decades, including "Good Vibrations," "Wouldn’t It Be Nice" and "Kokomo," but the 1963 single "Surfin’ USA" remains a favorite for many fans. Unfortunately, it wasn’t entirely a Beach Boys’ original.