Have you ever stopped to think about the music you listen to? Most western music theory is based on the chromatic scale, consisting of 7 octaves, each made up of 12 notes.If you believe in math, you might realize that there is a finite number of combinations of these scales and notes. When you also consider that some notes together create a dissonant noise, that limits the available options for music further.
With those limitations, there are bound to be instances of two people writing the same piece of music as someone else. What are four famous instances where the song remained the same?
Tom Petty and Sam Smith
Sam Smith won a Grammy for his song “Stay with me,” which is fascinating due to its similarity to Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down.” If you listen to “Stay with me” on its own, you may think “this sounds sort of familiar?”. Then, you go and listen to “I won’t back down, ” and you may say, “uh oh.” Sure enough, in the chorus, there it is, pretty much the same chord structure. Now, someone with a fine legal mind recognized this and wisely sought out Mr. Smith’s lawyers. There was a prompt settlement, that added Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne to the songwriting credits and recipients of some of the income derived from the song.
Marvin Gaye and Robin Thicke
Blurred lines may have been the title of the song, but it was also the story of who the songwriter may have been. This top ten single was heard by the family of Marvin Gaye. In “Blurred Lines” the family heard significant similarities to Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” They pursued action against the publishers of Thicke’s song and won the court battle. Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay a $7.3 million settlement for copyright infringement, though they claimed to have not based any part of their song on Gaye’s. Additionally, the family is seeking to halt sales of Thicke’s song for all time.
Even a Beatle is in trouble
George Harrison has even been taken to task for copying a lesser known song. His song, “My Sweet Lord” was found to be significantly similar to the Chiffon’s “He’s so fine.” Harrison eventually admitted to the similarity but stated that the cause must have been subconscious.
It’s as American as the Beach Boys
One of the more interesting cases in copyright liability is the Beach Boys “Surfing in the USA.” “Surfing’” is a stone cold rip-off of Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Not that ripping off Chuck Berry is anything abnormal, the list of culprits is too long to list. It’s just that “Sweet Little Sixteen” is a straight rip off of Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t That Just Like A Woman.” The good news for Berry is that he ended up getting a songwriting credit on “Surfing” and that credit brings him some of the dollars for the sales of one of the Beach Boys greatest songs.