So Led Zeppelin officially didn’t rip off ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from an obscure instrumental by a 1960s prog-rock band. At least as far as a Los Angeles federal jury is concerned, anyway.
Many eyes were on the case, not only because Zeppelin are a legendary band, but the fact that the case follows the historic ‘Blurred Lines’ trial, which set a dangerous precedent for plagiarism trials.
In light of the ‘Stairway’ case, we decided to go through other famous are-they-or-aren’t-they rip-offs throughout history that we think might have a tough time in court should they ever get called to the stand.
Tame Impala – ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ vs. Pablo Ruiz – ‘Océano’
Remember the absurd controversy surrounding these two tracks? Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker was accused by many of plagiarising Argentinian Pablo Ruiz’s 1989 song.
Of course, this was all nonsense with Parker himself believing it was all some big joke. In saying that, the chorus’ both do follow a very similar vocal progression, some may even say close to identical. You be the judge.
Nirvana – ‘Come As You Are’ vs. Killing Joke – ‘Eighties’
While we’d hate to accuse one of the most original songwriters of his generation a plagiarist, one can’t deny the similarities between the riff to Nirvana’s classic single ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘Eighties’ by UK post-punkers Killing Joke – both songs even have the same watery guitar effects.
Besides, it turns out the band noticed the similarity too, and were weary of releasing the track as a single for just that reason. Of course, the track did eventually get released a single and sure enough, word got to Killing Joke, who decided not to file a copyright claim.
Coldplay – ‘Viva La Vida’ vs. Joe Satriani – ‘If I Could Fly’
Now one of the musical world’s favourite punching bags, Coldplay, were hit by Satriani for apparently ripping off the legendary multi-instrumentalists track ‘If I Could Fly’.
So much so, in December of 2008 he filed a copyright infringement against Coldplay, who naturally denied they’d taken from his 2004 track. In the end, an out of court settlement was agreed upon between both acts.
New Found Glory – ‘It’s Not Your Fault’ vs One Direction – ‘Steal My Girl’
This one was pointed out by Paramore’s Hayley Williams, who just happens to be dating New Found Glory frontman Chad Gilbert. The morning One Direction released ‘Steal My Girl’, Williams thought she’d do the obligatory Twitter beefing for her boyfriend, tweeting: “Beginning of that new 1D song couldn’t sound any more like the beginning of @newfoundglory‘s “its not your fault” but”.
She’s definitely onto something – the piano line is practically identical, albeit sped up on the 1D track.
Deep Purple – ‘Smoke on the Water’ vs. Astrud Gilberto & Gil Evans – ‘Maria Quiet’
Yes, it’s the first riff that every guitarist plays. It’s the riff that anyone who only kinda sorta knows how to play guitar is able to play with expert proficiency. It’s the riff everyone cites when someone asks what the hell a riff is.
It may just be the single most famous riff in music, and it really, really, really, really sounds a lot like ‘Maria Quiet’ by bossa nova singer Astrud Gilberto and pianist Gil Evans. But it must be just a coincidence, right? It’s not like Deep Purple’s keyboardist was a jazz aficionado who came up by playing jazz clubs, right? Damn.
Metallica – ‘Enter Sandman’ vs. Excel – ‘Tapping Into the Emotional Void’
At this point we’d sort of like to apologise for ruining everything. Yes, the single most famous guitar riff in rock history is very likely a rip-off of an obscure jazz tune, but surely one of Metallica’s crowning achievements is an entirely original composition, right?
Well, that may not be so. Since the song’s release many have noticed striking similarities between the trash legends’ timeless riff and the riff from ‘Tapping Into the Emotional Void’ by punk-metal fusion band Excel, who even considered legal action though nothing seems to have come about. I mean, it’s not like Metallica are known for being litigious, right?
Madonna – ‘Express Yourself’ vs. Lady Gaga – ‘Born This Way’
When Lady Gaga emerged from her giant egg to perform her then-new single ‘Born This Way’ at the 2011 Grammy’s, immediately people stopped talking about her mode of entrance and instead began talking about its similarity to Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’.
The comparisons were being made so much that Madonna even broke her silence on the matter in an interview with ABC, saying, “When I heard it on the radio… I said that sounds very familiar.”
Throwing in some shade, she added, “It felt reductive.”
While nothing eventuated from the matter legally, the two popstars’ respective fan armies continue to bicker about whether Gaga’s feel-good equality anthem copied her predecessors’s.
Nelly Furtado – ‘Do It’ vs. Janne Suni – ‘Acidjazzed Everything’
This is a strange one, because we reckon that these two really sound quite a lot alike. Janne Suni, the Finnish composer behind ‘Acidjazzed Everything’, the spiralling chiptune track you can check out below, even took Nelly Furtado and producer Timbaland to court for stealing the “original and central identifying melodic, harmonic and rhythmic components” of his song.
However, the courts apparently didn’t agree with Suni, throwing his case out. While it may or may not have been because of the subtle differences between the two tunes, we reckon it’s because Suni is simply too obscure for Furtado or Timbaland to have ever possibly heard before.
Radiohead – ‘Creep’ vs. The Hollies – ‘The Air That I Breathe’
When The Hollies first heard Radiohead’s breakthrough single ‘Creep’ and noticed the similarities between the alt-rock classic and their song ‘The Air That I Breathe’, they were so flattered that they immediately slapped Thom Yorke and co. with a lawsuit for copyright infringement.
They won, too, and the liner notes to Radiohead’s debut album, Pablo Honey, now credit Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, the duo that penned ‘The Air That I Breathe’, as co-writers of ‘Creep’, and the band split all royalties from the track with Hammond and Hazlewood.
Jet – ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ vs. Iggy Pop – ‘Lust For Life’
That smashing drumbeat, who could ever forget it? Nope, that’s not rhetorical. Jet apparently forgot it, or maybe they just forgot that it wasn’t their percussions when they came put together their smash pop-rock hit that took the world by storm.
Maybe the Aussie boys had never heard of the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, who released the track ‘Lust For Life’ from his sophomore solo record of the same name back in 1977.
No matter, soon after the release of ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl’ the world attacked, slamming the Melbourne boys as phonies for alleging stealing from sir Pop.
Green Day – ‘Brain Stew’ vs. Chicago – ’25 or 6 to 4′
This one is likely unintentional, as we reckon Billie Joe Armstrong and the boys were too busy listening to the likes of The Replacements and Descendents to paw through their parents’ record collections and find this classic Chicago cut so they could rip it off.
That said, the opening chords of each song sound remarkably similar, and it would hardly be the only case of alleged plagiarism ever to hit the band. Online commentators have accused the band of ripping off everybody from Bryan Adams and The Kinks, to The Hives.
Black Eyed Peas – ‘I Gotta Feeling’ vs. Bryan Pringle – ‘Take a Dive’
Of course, there’s no way of telling if an artist actually ripped off a fellow performer without actually being in the room when they do it and hearing them exclaim something to the effect of, “I’m going to rip off this song, not credit the original artist, and make a lot of money!” followed by maniacal laughter.
That said, Will I Am, or Will Je Suis as he’s known in France, kind of has a history of doing this sort of thing. He’s allegedly plagiarised everyone from obscure rappers, to Daft freaking Punk. Even their 2009 mega-single ‘I Gotta Feeling’ sounds an awful lot like this track by some dude called Bryan Pringle.
Avril Lavigne – ‘I Don’t Have To Try’ vs. Peaches – ‘I’m The Kinda’
This is one of those cases where no one’s lawyers got involved, and it’s not known if either artist was entirely aware of the similarities between the two tracks. Avril is probably too busy making another horrible music video and if we know Peaches like we think we do, she probably wouldn’t give a fuck even if they knew.
In this case, Peaches’ extensive online following were up in arms about the similarities between the Canadian popstar’s fairly awful ‘I Don’t Have To Try’ and Peaches’ characteristically sultry ‘I’m The Kinda’. What they were doing listening to an Avril Lavigne song that wasn’t a single, we’ll never know.
Miley Cyrus – ‘Rockstar’ vs. Lustra – ‘Scotty Doesn’t Know’
We don’t know whose side we’re on in this case, because quite frankly, we don’t know whose song is cheesier. Honestly, they’re both pretty bad, but we probably have to side with Lustra.
Not because Miley is a superstar with the Disney machine behind her and Lustra are just some band trying to navigate the obstacles of the music industry, but mostly for the way in which they handled this one. After noticing the similarities between the two tunes, they decided to ditch the legal mumbo jump and instead challenged Miley to a live song-off instead.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – ‘Dani California’ vs. Tom Petty – ‘Last Dance With Mary Jane’
Tom Petty’s recently been making headlines for his quiet legal action against Grammy Award winner Sam Smith, for the similarities between his song ‘I Won’t Back Down’ and Smith’s hit ‘Stay With Me’.
But it’s hardly the first time that listeners have noticed similarities between Petty’s work and songs scaling the charts. In the early 2000s, many claimed that The Strokes had ripped off Petty’s opening to ‘American Girl’ note for note.
Meanwhile, more recently, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were suspected of pulling from Petty’s 1993 tune ‘Last Dance With Mary Jane’ for their hit ‘Dani California’. In this case, even the lyrical subject matter is pretty much the same.