3 Notable Cases of Musical Infringement

March 12, 2015

This week a judge ordered Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay $7 million to the estate of Marvin Gaye, finding that their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines” infringed on Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up.” Here are some other cases of musical copyright drama.

The ballad “21 Guns” was a big hit for Green Day in 2009, hitting the top 30, selling more than two million copies, and earning a Grammy nomination. On its release, however, many rock critics noted the similarities between the melody of the song’s chorus and “All the Young Dudes,” a song recorded by the glam rock band Mott the Hoople in 1972, but written by David Bowie. Rather than risk a lawsuit, Green Day decided to list Bowie as a songwriter on “21 Guns.”

British rock band the Verve had a big hit in 1997 with “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” The song is built around a looped hook, an orchestral sample of “The Last Time,” a Rolling Stones song played by the Andrew Oldham Orchestra. The Verve licensed the sample from ABKCO Publishing, but after the song started climbing the charts, ABKCO reneged on the deal, arguing that the song relied too heavily on the sample. ABKCO then demanded a full 100 percent of royalties for “Bitter Sweet Symphony” or it would remove the Verve’s album Urban Hymns from stores. The Verve relented.

Michael Bolton had a #1 hit in 1991 with “Love Is a Wonderful Thing,” a song he wrote with songwriter Andrew Goldmark. In 1994, a jury ruled that Bolton, Goldmark, and their label, Sony Music, was liable for copyright infringement for stealing many elements from an obscure 1966 single by the Isley Brothers…called “Love Is a Wonderful Thing.” Bolton appealed the case, arguing that he’d never heard the original song, but a judge disagreed. The Isleys were owed $5 million.

For more music trivia, check out Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges into Music.

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