Copycats… meow!

Top Fives are so hot right now. Not only did we get to hear Motown’s Top Five heartbreak records courtesy of Dave last week, but this week we have another curious countdown for your enjoyment. You may already know that the Beach Boys once got into high profile hot water for pinching someone else’s music, but they weren’t the only ones; stand by for my Top Five musical copycat cases:

1. Chuck Berry vs. The Beach Boys

Take a wander down memory lane to Rock ‘n’ Roll week of the musical adventure and you will remember Chuck Berry’s album, One Dozen Berrys. One of the stand out songs on the album was  Sweet Little Sixteen, but the first thing I thought upon hearing that particular tune was ‘isn’t this the Beach Boys?’ It turns out that Chuck Berry got there first, and following legal action the Beach Boys creditied their suspiciously similar 1963 hit Surfin’ USA entirely to Berry, music, lyrics and all!

The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys

2. John Fogerty plagairises himself

Pardon? He plagairises himself? Apparantly so. In 1994 John Fogerty was takien to court because his solo song The Old Man Down The Road sounded a little too similar to one he made earlier, Run Through The Jungle. Fogerty wrote Run Through The Jungle for his old band, the interestingly named Creedence Clearwater Revival, but the band sold their publishing rights to Fantasy Inc., who later sued Fogerty for copyright infringement. Fortunately for Fogerty, the courts found in his favour.

3. Ira Arnstein vs. everybody

For the truly paranoid songwriter it is possible to hear similarites everywhere. In the 1930s and 40s little known songwriter Ira Arnstein made a name for himself by repeatedly suing celebrated composers of the day for plagairism. Over 11 years he filed five lawsuits, claiming that no less than ten popular tracks were copied from his work. He didn’t win any of them.

4. George Harrison’s subconscious copying

But even the most innocent of songwriters can land themselves in trouble for copying. Former Beatle George Harrison was cleared of deliberately copying his number one hit My Sweet Lord from the song He’s So Fine by the Chiffons, but he was still ordered to surrender royalties from the song to the Chiffons. Harrison was judged to have plagiarised them without realising it, and subconscious or otherwise, copying is copying in the eyes of the law.

5. Radiohead vs. The Hollies

I can’t actually work out whether our final copycats went to court or not (damn you internet! why do you let me down??) but they make the list for the simple reason of being Dave’s favourite band. Writing credits to Radioheads first ever single, Creep, were later given to the composers of The Hollies’ hit, The Air That I Breathe. Another case of cryptomnesia?

Well that wraps up another scintillating Top Five! And if musical plagiarism cases are your thing, UCLA law school’s Copyright Infringement Project has a great archive of US copyright cases, compete with sound clips for comparison. Woohoo!

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One Response to Copycats… meow!

  1. Dave says:

    When Radiohead originally played Creep to their record company, they called it their ‘Scott Walker song’ because they felt it to be a rip-off of his sound. The record company assumed that it was a cover, but when Radiohead told them it was an original song, they pushed them to release it as their first single.

    My favourite plagiarism case of all time is Batt vs. Cage, when Mike Batt, writer of ‘Remember You’re A Womble’ and other Womble classics, released a song called ‘One Minute’s Silence’ and credited it to Batt/Cage. John Cage, who ‘wrote’ 4’33” (4 minutes 33 seconds of complete silence) in 1952 successfully sued him.

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