Stolen songs fall into the category of musical plagiarism, which is a close reproduction, copying, or imitation of an original musical work. It is the work of someone else performed or displayed as one’s own work. It was not unusual in the past to copy and use a part of a popular song in a new song, but after such plagiarized songs started earning money as hit songs, sometimes more than the original works, the originators started making use of the copyright law. The musical plagiarism is usually of two types, either by unauthorized use of the lyrics for another song or by the unauthorized utilization of another song’s melody or motif. In the former case, better known as sampling, it is unlawful to sample without attribution and due acknowledgment even if a song falls into the public domain and has not been copyrighted. Since the musical diatonic scale comprises only seven notes, there is a probability of coincidence,in which case the U.S. Law of Fair Use has been at times used by the defense.
1. ‘Frozen’ by Madonna
On February 23, 1998 Maverick Records released Madonna’s seventh album Ray of Light. It included the song ‘Frozen’ co-written by Madonna and Patrick Leonard. Its lyrics opened with:
‘You only see what your eyes want to see
How can life be what you want it to be
When your heart’s not open’
The song was a great success at the international level. It ranked #2 on Billboard’s ‘Hot 100’ and #1 on Billboard’s ‘Hot Dance Club’ play charts.
In 2005, Salvatore Acquaviva, a Belgian songwriter, claimed that Madonna had plagiarized his 1980s song Ma Vie Fout le Camp. A judge in Mons, Hainault province, agreeing with Acquaviva, ruled that ‘Frozen’ had too many similarities to Ma Vie Fout le Camp. Selling or playing of Madonna’s ‘Frozen’ was forbidden in Belgium with the note that any breach of the ruling will incur a fine of 125,000 euros to the record company.
2. ‘Get Ya,’ Lee Hyori
Lee Hyori launched her album Dark Angel in February, 2006. Its first single ‘Get Ya’ was allegedly a plagiarized form of Brittany Spear’s ‘Do Somethin.” Lee Hyori’s ‘I’m Gonna Get Ya’ resembled Britney Spear’s ‘Why Don’t Ya Do Somethin.” The original song ‘Do Somethin” was released on February 14, 2005 by Jive Records and was one of the best-selling songs in Belgium and Australia. After the songwriters of Britney Spears had accused the songwriters of Lee Hyori of plagiarism, the promotion of ‘Get Ya,’ was stopped immediately. However, by then, Lee Hyori had become the highest-paid female singer in Korea. Sample lyrics of both the songs are given below for comparison:
Lee Hyori ‘Get Ya’ lyrics:
Nol ikkeulgo issuh ne mameun nae mamdaero
Nae ane gadhyussuh I’m gonna get ya
Britney Spears’ ‘Do Somethin” lyrics:
Why don’t ya do somethin’?
Why don’t ya do somethin’?
3. ‘My Humps’ The Black Eyed Peas
‘My Humps’ is a hip hop and dance song performed by the American Recording group The Black Eyed Peas. It was released on September 20, 2005 as the band’s third single. Lynn Toliver, an Ohio disc jockey, sued The Black Eyed Peas claiming that the band had sampled his song ‘I Need a Freak’ without his permission. Lynn Toliver won $1.2 million as compensation. The composition of ‘My Humps’ included the sample:
In these times of hate and pain
We need a remedy to take us from the reign
Jealousy, a little greed
I’ve been thinking of what I need
4. ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’
Tommy Dunbar and James Gangwer, belonging to the pop band of the 1970s filed a lawsuit against Avril Lavigne, the famous Canadian singer songwriter claiming that she had stolen their song ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ and transformed it into her best-selling hit song ‘Girlfriend.’ The case was settled for an undeclared sum in January, 2008.
The Rubinoos lyrics, ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’ included:
Hey, you, I wanna be your boyfriend
Trying to say I wanna be your number one
Hey, you, I wanna be your boyfriend
Gonna make you love me before I’m done.
Avril Lavigne’s lyrics contained:
I could be your girlfriend
Hey! Hey! You! You!
I know that you like me
No way! No way!
I know it’s not a secret
Hey! Hey! You! You!
I want to be your girlfriend.
5. ‘Love in Vain’
‘Love in Vain’ is a beautiful and sad song covered by many musicians including The Rolling Stones. A U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the former company of The Rolling Stones known as ABKCO Records. The court determined that the song ‘Love in Vain’ recorded by the group was not in public domain. ‘Love in Vain’ was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.
Rolling Stones’ ‘Love in Vain’ lyrics:
Well, I followed her to the station with a suitcase in my hand ‘¦
Well, the train come in the station I looked her in the eye
Well, I felt so sad and lonesome that I could not help but cry
All, all my love’s in vain’
‘Eliminator’ is a studio album of the American rock band ZZ Top. It was released on March 23, 1983 and topped the charts worldwide. Its lyrics were co-written by the band’s sound engineer Linden Hudson while the band denied it. After a five-year court battle, Hudson proved that he held the copyright to the song ‘Thug’ included in ‘Eliminator.’ Hudson was consequently paid $600,000. The lyrics of the song included:
You look like who you say you are’¦
Lock all the doors I’m on the loose again all right!
I haven’t sat behind a wheel like this
since that job in 1956
I had a friend down in Alcatraz’¦
We gonna rob, steal, totin’ our guns all right!
‘I Want a New Drug’ is a song by the rock band Huey Lewis and the News. It topped the Dance Club Play chart and ranked #6 on the U.S. Billboard’s ‘Hot 100.’ Huey Lewis sued Ray Parker, Jr. for musical plagiarism claiming that Parker had stolen his melody for his film Ghostbusters’ theme song. Lewis claimed that Ghostbusters was musically too similar to ‘I Want a New Drug.’ Both of them settled the matter out of court with some confidential payment made by Columbia Pictures who was the defendant in the copyright infringement lawsuit.
8. ‘Whole Lotta Love’
‘Whole Lotta Love’ is Led Zeppelin’s song containing a sample from Dixon’s 1962 song ‘You Need Love.’ Dixon filed a copyright infringement suit. Both parties arrived at an out-of-court settlement. The following lyrics indicate the similarities:
Led Zeppelin- ‘Whole Lotta Love’
You need coolin’, baby, I’m not foolin’,
I’m gonna send you back to schoolin’,
Way down inside honey, you need it,
I’m gonna give you my love,
I’m gonna give you my love.
Willie Dixon- ‘You Need Love’
You need love and kissing too,
all these things are good for you
I ain’t foolin’ you need schoolin’
Baby you know you need coolin’
Baby, way down inside, woman you need love.
9. ‘You Can’t Catch Me’
John Lennon used the line; ‘Here come up flat top / He was groovin’ up slowly,’ from Chuck Berry’s song ‘You Can’t Catch Me.’ The line was used in the Beatle’s 1969 song ‘Come Together.’ Berry’s Publisher, Big Seven Music Corp, filed a lawsuit against John Lennon. In 1973 the case was settled when Lennon agreed upon recording three of Big Seven’s songs in his next album. However, the next album, Walls and Bridges did not include any one of the committed songs, whereupon Big Seven Music Corp sued Lennon again for breach of the contract. The court decided in favor of the company and awarded U.S. $6,795 in compensation.
10. The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys appeared in Hawthorne, California as a rock band. The band released ‘Surfin’ USA’ in March, 1963. Brian Wilson was listed as the sole composer whereas the song was already published by Chuck Berry’s publisher, Arc Music. In consideration of the fact, the next release in 1969, Best of the Beach Boys listed both writers, but the copyright was exclusively held by Arc Music since 1953. Brian Wilson’s father, who was also the manager of the Beach Boys’ band, had given the copyright to Arc Music.
Many original literary works remained dormant till someone explored their potential and brought them to prominence. In this way, musical plagiarism had played the role of a blessing in disguise. Some software can imitate other compositions quite closely. David Cope has written software Experiments in Musical Intelligence, or EMI, which can analyze, generalize, and develop a unique composition matching a human-generated product. Like the World Heritage site, there ought to be some world heritage music to preserve folk songs.