3 Notable Cases of Musical Infringements

January 28, 2015

Cases of Musical InfringementsThere are only so many musical notes, so sometimes two hit songs end up sounding alike. That’s when the lawyers get involved.

Stay With Me” vs. “I Won’t Back Down”

British singer Sam Smith is up for Record of the Year and Song of the Year at this year’s Grammy Awards for his sweeping ballad “Stay With Me.” He co-wrote the song, and this week the song acquired two new co-writers. Smith quietly settled a legal matter brought on by representatives of Tom Petty, who alleged that “Stay With Me” shared a melody with Petty’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down.” Smith says the similarities are unintentional, but Petty and “I Won’t Back Down” co-writer Jeff Lynne are now credited co-writers who will receive 12.5 percent of the song’s royalties from here on out.

“Come As You Are” vs. “Eighties”

In 1992, Nirvana was hesitant to release “Come As You Are” as a single because the opening riff bore a similarity to the one from “Eighties,” by British post-punk band Killing Joke. The song was released anyway, and Killing Joke’s people started a lawsuit that was ultimately never filed, reportedly because the band couldn’t afford the legal costs. (The members of Nirvana, meanwhile, sent the members of Killing Joke a Christmas card.)

Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was known to lift melodies, and admit to have done so. He frequently told reporters that the opening riff from Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a slightly re-tuned, reworking of the riff from Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” He’d even start playing “Teen Spirit” in concert…before segueing into “More Than a Feeling.”

“You Give Love a Bad Name” vs. “Heaven is a Place on Earth”

Bon Jovi’s 1986 hit “You Give Love a Bad Name” was co-written by songwriter and musician Desmond Child. Before working with Bon Jovi, he’d written, “If You Were a Woman and I Was a Man” for Scottish singer Bonnie Tyler. It was a flop when released as a single, so Child, as he told the website Songfacts, “brought that groove and the chorus to my first writing session with Jon Bon Jovi.” Along with some new elements contributed by Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora, “You Give Love a Bad Name Was Created.” A year later, Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s embarked on a solo career and scored a #1 hit with “Heaven is a Place on Earth.” Child, who stole his own song to create “You Give Love a Bad Name” thought “Heaven is a Place on Earth” stole from “You Give Love a Bad Name” and sued. He and the other songwriters now receive an undisclosed portion of the royalties from Carlisle’s song.

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