5 Costly Songwriting Similarities

When songwriters admitted that their tunes were a bit too similar to older songs, so they split credit and the money.

By Amanda Wicks

When Ed Sheeran released his hit single “Shape of You,” fans took to social media to point out that the song sounds more than a little bit like TLC’s 1999 single “No Scrubs.” It seems that a couple of lawyers noticed the similarities as well; Sheeran gave songwriters Kandi Burruss, Tameka Cottle and producer Kevin Briggs co-writing credit on his track.

Related: 8 Artists That Could Sue ‘Uptown Funk’ on the Same Grounds as ‘Blurred Lines’

Sheeran’s reasoning, which he hasn’t shared publically, may be due to two lawsuits filed against him in 2016—one for allegedly lifting a duo’s melody to make his hit “Photographs” and another for allegedly ripping off Marvin Gaye. But there are several copyright cases in the past that may help explain why Sheeran acted so quickly this time around. Here are five other costly songwriting similarities.

“Uptown Funk”
Mark Ronson brought the number of songwriters on “Uptown Funk” up to 11 when he included the Gap Band’s members, who claimed similarities between “Uptown Funk” and their single “Oops Upside Your Head” (via BET). Ronson told Billboard in late 2015 that the “Blurred Lines” trial fed into the decision. “[That] case just changed the nature of what goes on,” he said. “It showed that it doesn’t matter so much if you break copyright according to the rule of the law. It was too risky.” But since then, the song has come under additional fire. In late 2016, Minneapolis-based band Collage sued the pair claimed that the song shares major similarities to their track, “Young Girls.”

“Ghostbusters”
Huey Lewis heard something familiar in Ray Parker Jr.’s theme for the 1984 movie Ghostbusters. It sounded so much like his 1983 hit single “I Want a New Drug” (with Huey Lewis and the News) that he sued. The two eventually settled out of court, but in a bizarre twist, Parker Jr. sued Lewis in 2001 claiming that he breached their confidentiality agreement; Lewis discussed the issue during an episode of Behind the Music. “The offensive part was not so much that Ray Parker Jr. had ripped this song off, it was kind of symbolic of an industry that wants something — they wanted our wave, and they wanted to buy it,” Lewis said at the time.

“Ice Ice Baby”
Unlike other songwriting cases of similarity, Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle) out and out sampled Queen and David Bowie’s 1982 collaboration “Under Pressure” for his 1990 hit single “Ice Ice Baby.” When the song hit number one, Ice’s sampling became apparent to more than a few ears, but he claimed he hadn’t plagiarized because he’d altered the bass line by adding a beat. The case never went to trial, though. Instead, Ice settled out of court with both parties for an undisclosed amount.

“Stay with Me”
Although it never escalated into lawsuit territory, Sam Smith ended up adding Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne to the list of songwriters originally credited for his 2014 single “Stay With Me.” The song shared similarities with Petty and Lynne’s 1989 song “I Won’t Back Down,” even though Smith insisted he wasn’t familiar with it.  “Stay With Me” ended up winning Record of the Year at the 2015 GRAMMY Awards, but Petty and Lynne didn’t receive an award because, according to Senior Vice President of Awards Bill Freimuth, because they weren’t directly involved in writing it.

“Blurred Lines”
Robin Thicke and Pharrell initiated the proceedings that led to a trial over the similarities between their 2013 single “Blurred Lines” (also co-written with T.I.) and Marvin Gaye’s 1977 single “Got to Give It Up.” They sought declaratory relief that what they’d written didn’t infringe upon Gaye’s classic, but they would go on to lose their case when a judge, using the Copyright Act of 1976, awarded the Gaye family $5.3 million in damages as well as 50% of the song’s royalties. Thicke, Pharrell and T.I., stating the danger of such a ruling for music and creativity, filed an appeal in August.

 

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