Below are the Top 10 infringement cases of all time.

To demonstrate the ability of Music Fact Reports, we ran an analysis on ten of the top music infringement cases in order to better understand what the United States Courts deem as “substantial similarities”.

These reports detail the music composition similarities, and demonstrate what amount of similarity the courts have ruled are significant by virtue of the court ruling.

**The Matusiak Index is a measure of the degree of similarity between two songs.

For a complete description of how the Matusiak Index is derived, please see our whitepaper at this link.

 

 

 

 

     The estate of Randy Wolfe, previously known by his professional moniker Randy California as the lead guitarist and songwriter for the band Spirit, brought suit against the members of Led Zeppelin, alleging in 2014 that the intro for the song “Stairway To Heaven” was plagiarized from Spirit’s 1968 song “Taurus”, an instrumental that appeared on Spirit’s eponymous debut album several years before the release of “Stairway”.

     Interestingly, the Los Angeles jury that deliberated the arguments was not allowed to hear the original recordings of either song, hearing instead a performance by an expert musician based on the original sheet music.

     After a day of deliberation, the jury of eight returned a verdict indicating that the plaintiffs had not proven infringement and that the songs were not “substantially similar”. The case is now on appeal.

Matusiak Index:

88 Rhythm

Melody  52

Prevailed: Defendant

“Taurus” by Spirit  v.

“Stairway To Heaven”

by Led Zeppelin

 

 

 

 

     Brian Wilson wrote “Surfin’ USA” reportedly as an homage to Chuck Berry, whom Wilson (among many others in early rock-n-roll) has cited as a major influence. The Beach Boys song was ranked by Billboard as the second most popular song of 1963, and Wilson has gone on record as saying that his lyrics were essentially set to the Berry tune for “Sweet Little Sixteen”.

     Under pressure from Arc Music, Berry’s publisher, Wilson turned over credits and royalties to Arc without taking the case to trial. Releases of the song after 1966 list either Berry or both Berry and Wilson as the songwriters.

Prevailed: Claimant

“Sweet Little Sixteen” by Chuck Berry  v.

“Surfin’ USA” by The Beach Boys

Matusiak Index:

97 Rhythm

Melody   87

 

 

 

 

     One of the longest copyright cases, or indeed any civil litigation, in history - Bright Tunes Music Corporation filed the plagiarism suit against Harrison on behalf of songwriter Ronald Mack in 1971. It would not go to trial until 1976 and would not be definitively settled in court until 1998, a total of twenty-seven years in litigation.

     The judge in the case ruled against Harrison, and found him guilty of “subconscious plagiarism”, stating that while it was “perfectly obvious… the two songs are virtually identical”, he did not believe that Harrison had set out to purposely infringe on Mack’s original.

Matusiak Index:

72 Rhythm

Melody   93

Prevailed: Claimant

“He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons  v.

“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison

 

 

 

 

     In what has become a landmark case, the Gaye family brought suit against Thicke, co-writer Pharrell Williams, and Universal Records. Though evidence that the two songs, when reduced to sheet music, were not remarkably similar, the case turned instead on claims that the “vibe” and “feel” of the songs were too alike – something that had not previously been considered protectable under current U.S. copyright law.

     A $5.3 million judgment was upheld on appeal, though the dissenting judge on the 3-justice panel wrote the songs were “not objectively similar… different in melody, harmony and rhythm,” and noting that the plaintiffs were now owners of something no one else had before: “copyright [on] a musical style”.

Matusiak Index:

89 Rhythm

Melody   67

Prevailed: Claimant

“Got To Give It Up” by Marvin Gaye  v.

“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke

 

 

 

 

 

     The defending song was a monster hit for Ray Parker, attached as the theme to a blockbuster film that would secure the fortunes of many of the participants. While the film ruled the box office, Parker’s tune ruled the charts, rocketing to Number One in 1984 and even garnering a nomination for an Academy Award.

     Turns out the film’s producers had originally approached Lewis to write the theme song after Lindsey Buckingham declined. When Lewis turned down the gig (he was already committed to working on another sci-fi comedy film theme for “Back To The Future”), it appears they asked Ray Parker to fill Lewis’ shoes. Perhaps a bit too well – Columbia Pictures settled out of court with Lewis, for what may have been as much as $5 million.

Matusiak Index:

92 Rhythm

Melody   87

Prevailed: Claimant

“I Want A New Drug”

  by Huey Lewis & The News  v.

“Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker, Jr.

 

 

 

 

     Following its release in 2014, Smith and his co-writers were contacted by publishers representing Petty and Jeff Lynn, co-writers of the Heartbreaker’s tune, claiming similarity in the chorus of both songs. Though expressing no previous familiarity with the older song, Smith’s representatives were forced to acknowledge the alleged similarities.

     Claiming that the similarities were coincidental, Smith and his co-writers reached an amicable agreement with Petty’s publishers and agreed to co-credit the originators, as well as reportedly sharing 25% of the royalties. Smith’s recording would later be named Song as well as Record Of The Year at the 2015 Grammys.

 

 

Matusiak Index:

98 Rhythm

Melody   91

Prevailed: Claimant

“I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty  v.

“Stay With Me” by Sam Smith

 

 

 

 

 

     The Ninth Circuit’s decision to uphold would ultimately settle the case when the Supreme Court declined to review it – and awarded $5.4 million to the plaintiffs, a staggeringly-large award and at the time the largest ever in a music plagiarism case.

     It’s important to note that while the songs have identical titles, the infringement claim hinged on musical, and not lyrical similarity. Just as the court ruled in the “My Sweet Lord” case, it was found that Bolton, who claimed to have never heard the original, nonetheless may have unconsciously plagiarized the Isley Brother’s hit.

Matusiak Index:

73 Rhythm

Melody   88

Prevailed: Claimant

“Love Is A Wonderful Thing”

by The Isley Brothers  v.

“Love Is A Wonderful Thing”

by Michael Bolton

 

 

 

 

     The original was written for an obscure French film from 1957, but a district court jury found “striking similarity” between the two works, the latter a smash hit for Morris Albert in the mid-70’s.

     An appeals court would uphold both the verdict and the award to Gaste, despite several claims by the defendants on appeal that the lower-court ruling was made in error.

Matusiak Index:

57 Rhythm

Melody   89

Prevailed: Claimant

“Pour Toi” by Louis Gaste  v.

“Feelings” by Morris Albert

 

 

 

 

     Following Coldplay’s win at the Grammy Awards for Song Of The Year with their string-heavy, near-ubiquitous hit, guitar virtuoso Satriani filed suit, claiming the Coldplay tune made use of “significant original portions” of his composition from 2004. While Satriani complained that Coldplay “plays the exact same song and calls it their own”, the members of the band replied not only that they’d never heard “If I Could Fly”, but that it lacked sufficient originality to be protectable.

     The suit was dropped by agreement between the two parties following an apparent settlement, which almost always means that the claimant prevailed to at least some degree, and though the terms of the agreement were kept confidential, it is known that both sides paid their own legal fees, and Coldplay was not required to admit any wrongdoing.

Matusiak Index:

75 Rhythm

Melody   86

Prevailed: Claimant

“If I Could Fly” by Joe Satriani  v.

“Viva La Vida” by Coldplay

 

 

 

 

 

     The original, composed and published in 1926, was quite popular for decades, with perhaps its best-known recording made by the incomparable Bing Crosby in 1955. The subsequent composition by Peter de Angelis Bob Marcucci would be a hit for both Frankie Avalon in 1959, and for Anthony Newley a Number One record in 1960.

 

Though Newley would later become an inductee into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame, in this case the court found a “definite or considerable degree of similarity” between the two compositions. However, it was also determined that the plaintiff failed to establish that an act of copying occurred – either conscious or subconscious – and the defendant prevailed.

Matusiak Index:

69 Rhythm

Melody   73

Prevailed: Defendant

“In A Little Spanish Town”

by Bing Crosby  v.

“Why” by Anthony Newley

Contact:   Joe Vangieri     (615) 656-0927

© Digitrax Entertainment 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Below are the Top 10 infringement cases of all time.

To demonstrate the ability of Music Fact Reports, we ran an analysis on ten of the top music infringement cases in order to better understand what the United States Courts deem as “substantial similarities”.

These reports detail the music composition similarities, and demonstrate what amount of similarity the courts have ruled are significant by virtue of the court ruling.

 

 

 

 

     Brian Wilson wrote “Surfin’ USA” reportedly as an homage to Chuck Berry, whom Wilson (among many others in early rock-n-roll) has cited as a major influence. The Beach Boys song was ranked by Billboard as the second most popular song of 1963, and Wilson has gone on record as saying that his lyrics were essentially set to the Berry tune for “Sweet Little Sixteen”.

     Under pressure from Arc Music, Berry’s publisher, Wilson turned over credits and royalties to Arc without taking the case to trial. Releases of the song after 1966 list either Berry or both Berry and Wilson as the songwriters.