Ripoff artists who should be sued
The $7.4 million judgement against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for allegedly plagiarizing the late Marvin Gaye in the song Blurred Lines is very encouraging for fans of originality.
And with Sam Smith rolling over and crying uncle after Tom Petty’s publisher pointed out that Stay With Me contains a similar chord progression and even SOME OF THE SAME NOTES as I Won’t Back Down, the floodgates of aggressive creative protection have been opened! On the settlement of getting 12.5% of all earnings from Stay With Me, Petty quipped, “Hey, thanks, man, no hard feelings,” or words to that effect. They say you can’t copyright the building blocks of nature, that no one owns the rights to wood and nails, but apparently you can.
Legions of unoriginal music stars are now scared out of their wits! Never mind plagiarism. It’s come down to style. No more will we tolerate any musical artist copping the “vibe,” or stealing the “mojo,” of another more successful artist. Or the estate if he or she is dead and has a good lawyer.
As a public service to litigious recording artists fed up with having their good ideas stolen, here is a small, incomplete list of stars who should be sued. For convenience, suggested judgements have been set down (plaintiffs please send 10% commission to GigCity). Judge, jury and executioner!
This gifted but derivative Hawaiian crooner is hereby ordered to pay $1 million each to the estates of James Brown, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Bob Marley, Wilson Pickett and Curtis Mayfield, plus Prince, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Sting and more to be named later – plus 5% to each from all future Bruno Mars songs that will sound like he went back in time and stole your cool older brother’s record collection.
It’s no secret that Born This Way sounds an awful lot like Madonna’s Express Yourself, including the tempo, melody and basic theme (although one is gay, one straight), never mind that Lady Gaga copied Madonna’s image, and went for the same target market with the same desire to shock the squares. Madonna responded, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” but hasn’t sued. Judgement: One-time $1 million donation to a gay rights organization of Madonna’s choice – because Lady Gaga failed to heed the golden rule of plagiarism: If you’re going to steal a song, make it a good one.
Here’s an Australian hard rock quartet that sounds so much like AC/DC that this should be an open-and-shut case. Judgement: Band must tour casinos as an AC/DC tribute act, give half the money to the ailing Malcolm Young.
This should’ve been settled a long time ago. Among other obvious examples of blatant vibe thievery, La Grange – along with the phrase “how, how, how, how” – is a direct lift from John Lee Hooker. ZZ Top also owes debts to a number of other bluesy boogie rockers of yore, including Bo Diddley, Slim Harpo and Hound Dog Taylor. Judgement: 50% of royalties from all ZZ Top songs shall go towards building a nice Rest Home For Old Bluesmen.
Both litigants are deceased in this case, so for copping the style of Ray Charles for a great deal of her material, Amy is ordered to serve as a “Raylette” for Ray’s band in Rock ‘n’ Roll Heaven. That doesn’t sound so bad.
Here’s another guy who’s gotten away with musical murder for far too long. The guitar riff from his 1995 hit song Rock and Roll is Dead is just the riff from Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion turned upside down, and the hook of Are You Gonna Go My Way rips off Jimi Hendrix. The list goes on. Don’t think you can fool the baby boomers who may or may not remember the 1960s, Lenny! Judgement: 10% royalties each to Aerosmith and the Jimi Hendrix estate, plus a permanent ban on his grossly inferior version of American Woman.
The swampy opening guitar line from the band’s 2009 hit song All Falls Down sounds like it could easily break into The Chain by Fleetwood Mac – a grievous sin from an otherwise original Canadian artist. Judgement: 5% of earnings (it’s just the intro), and must teach a course in Fleetwood Maconomics at the Berklee College of Music, where Ian Thornley learned to play guitar as good as Lindsey Buckingham.
For making the world think she’s a black female rapper from the mean streets of Queens, New York instead of a white chick from the twee village of Mullumbimby in Australia, the award-winning artist behind Fancy is ordered to record a rap remake of Ebony and Ivory with Nicki Minaj – with according royalties paid to Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.
Didn’t expect this, did you? Victims of glaring plagiarism beyond the call of duty, Chuck Berry and Little Richard shall each be paid $100 million by each of Beatles or their estates, as both of these rock ‘n’ roll originators were huge influences on the Liverpool lads. Counter judgement: Oasis, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, the Beach Boys, Lenny Kravitz, the Kinks, the Flaming Lips, Nirvana, the Rolling Stones, or anyone else ever labelled “Beatlesque” are hereby ordered to surrender all future royalties from all songs in perpetuity.
The possible number of permutations of 12 notes over four bars of music is roughly 185,000,000,000,000,000 – many times the number of humans who have ever lived, let alone songwriters. And those are quarter notes. It goes up a bit if you start fooling around with shorter values or use more than one at a time. In case we think it’s all been done before.