7 Famous Musicians Who’ve Been Accused Of Stealing Songs

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Songwriting isn’t exactly easy, and if you’re trying to write a piece with a great melody, accessible lyrics, and an interesting chord structure, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll end up borrowing a few notes from something you’ve heard before. That’s understandable; even The Beatles borrowed riffs from blues legends like Pee Wee Crayton (listen here and try to tell us that Crayton’s “Do Unto Others” intro isn’t identical to the intro from “Revolution”).

Sometimes, though, a song sounds a little too similar to an earlier work, and that’s when the lawyers get involved. We looked into a few of the more notable examples of song “stealing” to determine whether we really need to reconsider our opinions of artists like Led Zeppelin, George Harrison, and Lana Del Rey.

Yes, Lana Del Rey.

1. Lana Del Rey

“Get Free,” the final track from Del Rey’s 2017 album Lust for Life has a depressing, spacey feel and a melancholy melody—so, in other words, it’s a Lana Del Rey song.

The final chorus resolves with the lines “Out of the black, into the blue,” which is borrowed from Neil Young’s classic 1979 track “Hey Hey, My My,” but that’s not actually what got Del Rey into trouble.

The Alleged Rip-Off

“Get Free” shares a chord progression—and several melodic elements—with Radiohead’s “Creep,” an equally melancholy track released on the band’s debut album in 1993.

In late 2017, rumors began to circulate the internet that Radiohead was suing Del Rey for a writing credit. She seemed to confirm those rumors in a Jan. 2018 tweet.

“It’s true about the lawsuit,” Del Rey wrote on Twitter (the tweet was later removed). “Although I know my song wasn’t inspired by ‘Creep,’ Radiohead feel it was and want 100% of the publishing. I offered up to 40 over the last few months but they will only accept 100. Their lawyers have been relentless, so we will deal with it in court.”

The Result

Radiohead’s publisher denied the existence of any lawsuit and disputed parts of Del Rey’s tweet.

“As Radiohead’s music publisher, it’s true that we’ve been in discussions since August of last year with Lana Del Rey’s representatives. It’s clear that the verses of ‘Get Free’ use musical elements found in the verses of ‘Creep’ and we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favour of all writers of ‘Creep,'” publisher Warner/Chappell said in a statement reported by Pitchfork. “To set the record straight, no lawsuit has been issued and Radiohead have not said they ‘will only accept 100%’ of the publishing of ‘Get Free.'”


The controversy brought another copyright dispute into the public eye; “Creep” is partly credited to Albert Hammond and Mike Hazelwood of The Hollies, who wrote and recorded a similar song called “The Air That I Breathe” in 1972.

As it turns out, Radiohead borrowed from The Hollies, so if Del Rey did copy elements of “Creep,” she was actually ripping off a much older song.

In any case, the issue seems to have been settled behind closed doors, as Del Rey told audiences at Lollapalooza in March.

“Well, f—! I mean, now that my lawsuit’s over, I guess I can sing that song anytime I want, right?” she said, according to a report from the BBC.

2. Led Zeppelin

“Stairway to Heaven” is, without question, Led Zeppelin’s most famous song. It’s an epic fantasy-inspired piece with a hard-rocking finale, and the intro is nothing short of iconic.

Walk into any Guitar Center, and you’ll hear some 13-year-old practicing the opening lick.

The Alleged Rip-Off

Yeah, about that intro—listen to this 1967 instrumental “Taurus,” written by the wonderfully named Randy Wolfe, lead guitarist for Spirit.

It uses a similar descending chromatic riff, and while the rest of the tune sounds nothing like “Stairway to Heaven,” the latter song’s intro was similar enough to prompt a lawsuit (link opens a PDF).

Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit during an early tour, so it’s reasonable to assume that guitarist Jimmy Page would be aware of “Taurus.”

What Happened Next

Wolfe’s estate lost their copyright lawsuit, as a Los Angeles jury determined that the songs’ similarities were coincidental.

Of course—and we’re just speculating here—things might have gone differently if Wolfe’s estate had hired a different lawyer. Attorney Francis Malofiy apparently decided that a rock-‘n-roll case deserved some rock-‘n-roll theatrics, as he arrived in court with a briefcase made to look like a Fender amp, tried to play videos that hadn’t been admitted as evidence, and tried to claim that Page was influenced by the Mary Poppins song “Chim Chim Cheree.”

“You’re wasting everyone’s time,” the judge repeatedly told Malofiy.

Flickr/Heinrich Klaffs

At one point, the judge even sustained an objection to Malofiy’s argument before the defense asked for one. That’s, uh, not a good sign.

In any case, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant quickly released a statement celebrating the judgment.

“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” they said. “We appreciate our fans’ support and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”

In other words, Plant and Page will wind on down the road, their shadows taller than their souls.

3. George Harrison

“My Sweet Lord,” an upbeat meditation on religion, is one of Harrison’s best-known solo songs. It’s almost a call-and-response song, as backing vocalists respond to Harrison’s positive lyrics with chants of “Hallelujah,” “Hare Krishna,” and “Gurur Vishnu,” and the lovely arrangement makes it a clear highlight of Harrison’s classic album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the clearest rip-offs on this list.

The song’s notable for its frank discussion of faith, which was an unusual subject matter for a ’70s pop hit, to say the least.

“I thought a lot about whether to do ‘My Sweet Lord’ or not, because I would be committing myself publicly and I anticipated that a lot of people might get weird about it,” Harrison wrote later. “Many people fear the words ‘Lord’ and ‘God.’ [It] makes them angry for some reason.”

The Alleged Rip-Off

The Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” a minor R&B hit from 1963, shares a chord structure and melody with “My Sweet Lord.” Harrison later admitted to unconsciously plagiarizing the earlier tune, and to his credit, he tried to resolve the issue as soon as he was aware of it, offering to buy the Chiffons’ publisher’s entire catalog. When that didn’t work, Harrison offered to split sales of “My Sweet Lord” with the publisher.

Unfortunately, he was unable to do so, in part because Harrison’s former manager Allen Klein was attempting to purchase the catalog on his own. That was particularly devious since Harrison had asked Klein to purchase that same catalog on his behalf only a few years earlier.

Eventually, Klein was able to obtain “He’s So Fine” for $587,000 and became Harrison’s legal opponent.

What Happened Next

This led to one of the most infamous copyright lawsuits in history, and Harrison eventually lost. He was ordered to pay back royalties—which totaled millions of dollars—but there was a bit of good news for the Beatle. The judge agreed with Harrison that Klein couldn’t benefit from owning the publishing rights to “He’s So Fine,” given that Klein had been Harrison’s manager. As a result, Harrison had to pay Klein the $587,000 but didn’t have to pay back royalties.

David Hume Kennerly/Wikimedia Commons

That still left a black mark on Harrison’s otherwise stellar music career. By his own account, Harrison felt terrible about the accidental plagiarism, although he harbored resentment for Klein, writing at least one song apparently directed at his former manager. His fellow Beatle, John Lennon, also wrote a song excoriating Klein for an unrelated reason. In 2000, Harrison re-worked “My Sweet Lord” for a reissue of All Things Must Pass, changing the melody considerably.

The new version is heavy on slide guitar, and in our opinion, it’s not quite as catchy—but at least it’s not “He’s So Fine.”

4. Coldplay

Built around a loop of a string section, “Viva la Vida” was a successful single for Coldplay, released in 2008 at the height of the group’s commercial power. It’s pretty upbeat for a Coldplay tune, with heavily religious themes and an uplifting chorus.

Granted, it wasn’t exactly a departure for Coldplay—it sounds like a bunch of their other tunes—but it’s a perfectly pleasant example of what they do well. What’s not to like?

The Alleged Rip-Off

Guitarist Joe Satriani found something to dislike. He sued Coldplay for ripping off his instrumental piece “If I Could Fly,” another upbeat tune with an uplifting melody. Listening to the two pieces back to back, it’s easy to spot the similarities, although both use a fairly common chord progression. Also, Satriani’s song doesn’t have lyrics, while Coldplay’s doesn’t have any totally frickin’ bodacious guitar solos.

“I spent so long writing the song, thinking about it, loving it, nursing it, and then finally recording it and standing on stages the world over playing it—and then somebody comes along and plays the exact same song and calls it their own,” Satriani said.

Coldplay responded in a written statement, claiming that they’d never heard Satriani’s song while noting that it “lacked originality.” Ouch. That’s a cold play, Coldplay.

What Happened Next

The lawsuit was dismissed, but it’s not clear whether or not Coldplay settled with Satriani. Per the terms of the dismissal, however, Coldplay doesn’t have to admit wrongdoing, and they can keep criticizing Joe Satriani’s bodacious solos as much as they’d like.


“With the greatest possible respect to Joe Satriani,” Coldplay said in a (much nicer) statement, “if there are any similarities between our two pieces of music, they are entirely coincidental, and just as surprising to us as to him.”

5. Rod Stewart

“Forever Young,” a touching 1988 single, was part of a career resurgence for Stewart. The lyrics address Stewart’s son directly, providing a father’s blessing:

“May the good Lord be with you down every road you roam.

And may sunshine and happiness surround you when you’re far from home.

And may you grow to be proud, dignified and true.

And do unto others as you’d have done to you.”

For Stewart, it was a deeply personal song.

“It came about after a long, very touching conversation he had with his 6-year-old son last year,” Stewart’s manager, Arnold Stiefel, said in 1988. “There was this great empathy between them, which I think really moved Rod. And as he remembers it, he saw a film in England around the same time called ‘Forever Young,’ which is where the title came from.

The Alleged Rip-Off

There was already a song called “Forever Young,” written by Bob Dylan. The lyrics, in part:

“May God bless and keep you always

May your wishes all come true

May you always do for others

And let others do for you”

If that sounds similar, it’s because…well, it’s basically the same exact concept. In both songs, the singer talks directly to a younger listener, blessing their journey through life and wishing that they will remain “forever young.”

Dylan wrote his song as a lullaby for his son, Jesse; Stewart wrote his tune for his kids, Sean and Kimberly, as a sort of apology for spending so much time on the road. We could chalk that up to coincidence, but Stewart was reportedly a big Dylan fan, so he’d likely heard the earlier song at some point.

However, there’s an important caveat: Dylan’s song doesn’t sound much like Stewart’s song. The 1988 “Forever Young” is a wistful ’80s pop tune; the 1973 Dylan song is a soft acoustic ballad. While there are a few melodic similarities, the songs mainly share a common subject—musically, they’re pretty distinct.

“When we were putting the album together, someone pointed out that there was a Dylan song with the same title,” Stiefel said. “So we listened to the two songs. And it would be fair to say that while the melody and the music is not at all the same, the idea of the song is similar. The architecture of the lyrics of the song is very much from Dylan—there are definite similarities.”

Punt-Anefo/Wikimedia Commons

That’s a refreshingly honest admission, and it might have helped Stewart avoid an embarrassing lawsuit.

What Happened Next

Stiefel reached out to Dylan. They received a response from Dylan’s attorney, who agreed to let Stewart record his “Forever Young.” However, the attorney noted that Dylan “did want to participate in ownership of the song.”

That’s a nice way of saying, “As long as I’m getting some money, go ahead and bless your son, or whatever.”

Today, Dylan isn’t listed as a writer on the later “Forever Young,” but he does get a 50-50 split from any of the tune’s royalties. Stewart, meanwhile, donates his share of the royalties to charity.

6. The Bee Gees

“How Deep Is Your Love?” is a shining example of the Bee Gees’ sublime late-’70s run. One of the biggest hits off the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever, it’s a tender love ballad featuring flowing strings, jazzy chords, and Barry Gibb’s breathy vocals. Even if you hate everything about the disco era, it’s hard to hear “How Deep Is Your Love?” without getting the urge to put on your finest rhinestone-lined leisure suit while you let the tears well up in your eyes.

And if you absolutely hate the Bee Gees for some reason, Luther Vandross also has a great version. If it’s not obvious, we really, really like “How Deep Is Your Love?”

So did the Bee Gees; according to a report from The Telegraph, the late Robin Gibb (Barry’s brother and one of the Bee Gees) asked to hear the song as one of his final requests while laying on his deathbed. We’re not crying, you’re crying.

The Alleged Rip-Off

In 1975—two years before “How Deep Is Your Love?” hit the charts—songwriter Ronald Selle wrote a song called “Let it End.” He’d obtained a copyright for it and mailed it to 14 publishers, and when he heard the Bee Gees’ hit on the radio, he immediately recognized it as his own composition.

This helpful video points out the similarities between the two songs. The lyrics are completely different, but the melodies are nearly identical at certain points.

However, the Bee Gees had evidence that they hadn’t ripped off Selle’s original work; they recorded a portion of the writing sessions for “How Deep Is Your Love,” and on tape, Barry can be heard working out the melody. If he’d stolen from Selle, he didn’t do it consciously.

There was another issue: the Bee Gees didn’t have access to Selle’s demo. Nevertheless, Selle filed suit against the band, drawing on expert witnesses to show similarities in melody, harmony, and composition. His case was based on “inferred access [to the demo tape] established by ‘striking similarities.'”

What Happened Next

Selle won his case in 1983, but the Bee Gees appealed. In 1984, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the ruling, noting that “the evidence of striking similarity is not sufficiently compelling to make the case when the proof of access must otherwise depend largely upon speculation and conjecture.”

Robert Sullivan/Flickr

Basically, the court decided that both Selle and the Bee Gees had written their respective songs independently, and the striking similarities could be reasonably inferred to be a coincidence. That was a landmark ruling in copyright law, and more importantly, it allows us to listen to “How Deep Is Your Love?” on repeat without feeling guilty.

7. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams

“Blurred Lines” was the feel-good hit of 2013…until audiences gradually realized that the lyrics were, ahem, problematic.

Some of the lyrics in question:

“Okay now he was close, tried to domesticate you

But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature

Just let me liberate you”

Songwriter Pharrell Williams defended “Blurred Lines” from accusations of misogyny, telling The Independent that the song “came from a good place.”

“When you look at the song in totality, you realize that the song’s about a woman who wanted to…who felt something, but decided to take it out on the dancefloor,” Williams said.

“The song was a pie-in-the-sky idea of a conversation that never took place! The song ain’t about doing it! Nothing ever happens. ’Cause she’s a good girl. Duh!”

Okay, that…uh, actually makes us feel more uncomfortable. Still, we can’t say that “Blurred Lines” doesn’t sound good; with its loose, bass-heavy groove, it’s one of those tunes that gets you moving.

The Alleged Rip-Off

About that loose, bass-heavy groove—if you think you’ve heard it somewhere before, you might be right.

Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” was his first attempt at disco, released in 1977 to immediate acclaim.

A number one hit, it features a loose, bass-heavy groove, and if you’ve been paying attention at all, you know where this is going.

What Happened Next

Gaye’s estate took Williams and Thicke to court. The “Blurred Lines” writers argued that their song used different melodic and harmonic components than “Got to Give It Up,” and that the similar grooves were coincidental (or at least superficial).

The court disagreed, ruling that the Gaye estate is “entitled to broad copyright protection because musical compositions are not confined to a narrow range of expression.” The estate is entitled to half of all of the song’s royalties.

Predictably, Williams strongly disagreed with the judgment.

Lisa EK/Flickr

“The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else,” he told The Financial Times. “This applies to fashion, music, design…anything. If we lose our freedom to be inspired, we’re going to look up one day and the entertainment industry as we know it will be frozen in litigation. This is about protecting the intellectual rights of people who have ideas.”

“There was no infringement,” he continued. “You can’t own feelings and you can’t own emotions . . .there are only the notations and the progression. Those were different.”

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