A Look At Copyright Lawsuits Involving Hit Songs

A federal court jury in Los Angeles has decided that Led Zeppelin did not steal a riff for the intro of its epic hit, “Stairway to Heaven.” Here is a look at some other cases that have taken pop songs from the recording studio to the courtroom over plagiarism allegations.

Photo: Amy Sancetta/AP, file
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page reunite to perform for the Live Aid concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

VMG Salsoul vs. Madonna

Delaware company VMG Salsoul owned the copyright to the song, “Ooh I Love It (Love Break),” and accused Madonna of stealing the horn segment for “Vogue.” In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling dismissing the lawsuit. The divided court said the horn segment would be unrecognizable to the average listener of “Vogue” because it is short, occurs only a few times in the song and was modified.

Photo: Brad Barket / Invision / AP
Global Citizen Festival, Great Lawn @ Central Park, New York City

Osama Ahmed Fahmy vs. Jay Z

An Egyptian composer whose 1957 song “Khosara Khosara” is partially used in Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’“ sued the rapper, producer Timbaland and several media companies. Flute notes that the composer used are repeated throughout the Jay Z song, and nephew Osama Ahmed Fahmy claimed they exploited “Khosara Khosara” without proper permission. A federal judge dismissed the case after hearing testimony from experts on Egyptian law.

Children Of Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke And Pharrell Williams

A jury found singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied R&B legend Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” with their 2013 megahit “Blurred Lines.” Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay Gaye’s children nearly $7.4 million. A judge trimmed the award, and the verdict is under appeal.

Photo: Scott Gries/Invision/AP
Keeping it classy at the MTV VMAs at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

George Harrison vs. The Chiffons

Former Beatle George Harrison’s 1970 solo song “My Sweet Lord” had a melody heavy with echoes of “He’s So Fine,” the 1962 hit from The Chiffons. The copyright owner sued Harrison. A judge said that while the tunes were nearly identical, Harrison only committed “subconscious plagiarism.” Harrison would eventually pay $587,000.

Huey Lewis vs. The Ghostbusters

Ray Parker Jr. ain’t afraid of no ghost, but he had to give in when Huey Lewis and the News came after him. Parker’s “Ghostbusters,” from the movie of the same title, was among the top 10 songs of 1984. But Lewis sued him over the song’s resemblance to “I Want a New Drug,” a song released earlier the same year. Parker settled out of court for a confidential sum.

Photo: Doug Seymour
Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Vanilla Ice vs. Queen

Vanilla Ice’s 1990 signature tune, “Ice, Ice, Baby,” used a sample of the 1981 Queen-David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure” without credit. Vanilla Ice would settle out of court for an undisclosed amount in one of many cases that stemmed from hip-hop’s heavy use of sampling at the time.

Fogerty vs. Fogerty

In a case as bizarre as it was far-reaching, John Fogerty was accused of stealing from John Fogerty. The Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman was sued for his 1985 solo song “The Old Man Down the Road” because his former label thought it sounded too much like the 1970 Fogerty-penned “Run Through the Jungle,” a song the label owned the rights to. A jury ruled in Fogerty’s favor, but a countersuit over attorneys’ fees would reach the U.S. Supreme Court. The fight would lead to an ongoing rift among bandmates who took opposing sides. Fogerty was still estranged from his brother and fellow CCR member Tom Fogerty over the issue when Tom died in 1990.

Photo: Chris McKay / GettyImages.com
Fox Theatre, Atlanta, Ga.

Tom Petty vs. Sam Smith

Not all plagiarism cases are so nasty. Tom Petty won a piece of British soulster Sam Smith’s hit “Stay With Me” earlier this year, and all he had to do was ask. Petty’s publishers said that while it was clearly coincidental, the song’s melody bore a striking resemblance to Petty’s 1989 song “I Won’t Back Down.” Smith and his representatives agreed, and granted co-writing credit to Petty. The song would win Grammys for record of the year and song of the year the following month.