Plagiarism or inspiration

Throughout the decades of music musicians were accused of stealing songs from others. The question is always how much do they coincide? In most cases musicians are inspired by someone else. But not every song that sounds like another goes to court. Here are some well known cases.

A band that is heavily influenced by other people is Led Zeppelin.

In 1969 the released their debut album after the disbanding of the Yardbirds Jimmy Page brought some inpiration and songs from the Yardbirds along to Led Zeppelin. An instrumental on that album is titled "Black Mountain Side" with indian percusion. The guitar riff on that song comes straight from Bert Jansch' "Black Water Side". Al Stewart who worked with Bert Jansch on his early albums learned the guitar riff to Jimmy Page. He was never sued for that by the way.

But another song on the debut album was "Dazed & Confused" also performed live by the Yardbirds when Jimmy Page was still in this band. It was heavily inspired by a song with the same title by Jake Holmes. Who tried to contact Jimmy Page in the 80's for his credits but never got any response and started a lawsuit in 2010 because he demanded some credits for the use of his song. That's how it ended. Nowadays the credits of the song are "Jimmy Page, inspired by Jake Holmes" on any future release of the debut album.

Later in their career they scored a hit with "Stairway To Heaven" but this song used a piece of the song "Taurus" by Spirit from 1968. This trial that started in 2016 is still not finished and will be brought to a panel of 11 judges.

Also beatle George Harrison was sued for his first solo hit "My Sweet Lord". This time it resembles a song from the Chiffons titled "He's So Fine" written by Ronnie Mack from the Bright Tunes label. The label was taken over by ABKCO and this trial took many years but finally George had to pay $ 587,000. The price ABKCO paid for this song only when they took over Bright Tunes.

Also Michael Jackson was sued. This time for "Billie Jean". Because there was also a disturbed fan who claimed to be Billie Jean Jackson and claimed she got 3 sons from Michael and he would not pay child support. This trial soon ended because it was clear she was mentally ill and there was another father from her 3 sons. But there is also the simularity in the song "Billie Jean" with Steely Dan's "Do It Again". Probably because Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro was involved in the recording of the Thriller album from Michael Jackson. And Jeff also worked with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen from Steely Dan. 

Finally we come to "Ghostbusters" from Ray Parker Jr. In this case Ray and Colombbia Pictures were sued by Huey Lewis for stealing his song "I Want A new Drug". Officially Huey Lewis was approached to do the theme song for Ghostbusters but he refused because he was already working on a theme song for another film "Back To The Future". Eventually it was settled with a confidential amount of money until 2001 when he was commented on the payment on Television. Parker subsequently sued Lewis for breaching confidentiality.

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