Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams didn’t just blur the lines, they crossed them, a California jury ruled this week.
Their song “Blurred Lines” ripped off the Marvin Gaye soul classic “Got to Give It Up,” jurors found, ordering the performers to pay millions for copyright damages and infringement.
Talk about getting blasted: Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay $7.4 million.
It’s not the first time singers have turned to the courts to settle an accusation of musical theft.
Sam Smith’s song:
Tom Petty stands his ground: Young British pop sensation Sam Smith’s 2014 tune “Stay With Me” has a riff in the chorus similar to that of the 1989 Tom Petty hit “I Won’t Back Down.” Reports say the two settled out of court, and the official credits now list Petty as a co-writer of the Smith song. Petty says there are no hard feelings.
Huey Lewis and the News:
Who ya gonna call? My lawyer! The 1980s rocker Huey Lewis accused Ray Parker Jr. of copying a “Ghostbusters” song riff from the 1984 hit “I Want a New Drug” by his band, Huey Lewis and the News. Reports at the time said they settled and signed a confidentiality agreement. In 2001, Parker accused Lewis of breaking it in a televised interview.
Men at Work:
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the flute riff? Australian band Men at Work lost a case that all but accused them of stealing from children. A court found that the flute solo in their global hit “Down Under” had plagiarized the children’s tune “Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree,” written for the Scouting organization the Girl Guides. (It was the publisher of the song, Larkin Music, that sued. Marion Sinclair, who wrote “Kookaburra” in 1934, died in 1988.)
Queen and David Bowie’s tune:
Yes, there’s a problem. Vanilla Ice hit it big for the first and only time with “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990, rapping over a catchy bass riff that sounded suspiciously like the one in the Queen and David Bowie hit “Under Pressure.” Reports at the time said a lawsuit was settled out of court.
Neil Innes, 14 years earlier:
Not free to do whatever you want. Some fans of the Beatles spoof band the Rutles noticed what they thought were similarities between the Oasis hit “Whatever” and the Neil Innes tune “How Sweet to be an Idiot.” Headlines suggested that Innes was going to sue Oasis, but in a 2013 interview, the songwriter said it was the music publisher EMI who took action and settled out of court, giving a quarter of the monies from “Whatever” to Innes and a quarter to EMI. Innes later winked at the incident in the opening notes of the song “Shangri-La.”
If everybody had their own tune: There’s some controversy about how the Beach Boys’ first big hit, “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” came to be written since the melody seems to be lifted straight from the Chuck Berry single “Sweet Little Sixteen.” It’s listed now as having been written by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and Berry. On his website, Berry calls “Surfin’ U.S.A.” a cover of his tune.
Not so fine: One of the most famous copyright disputes in music history targeted former Beatle George Harrison’s song “My Sweet Lord,” which was found to have copied “He’s So Fine” by the girl group the Chiffons. Harrison was ordered to pay nearly $2 million and was quoted as saying he never made any money off the song — but he struck back with “This Song,” a hit about the incident. It included the line: “As far as I know, it don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright.”