Plagiarism in art and music

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Nicki Minaj is paying up after copying a Tracy Chapman song. Here are some of the most controversial cases of plagiarism of the last few years.

A double portrait of Nicki Minaj (left) and Tracy Chapman (right)

Nicki MInaj vs. Tracy Chapman

In a court documents made public January 7, rapper Nicki Minaj was forced to pay $450,000 (369,000€) to singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman for ripping of Chapman’s song “Baby Can I Hold You” in her tune “Sorry.” Minaj’s team had repeatedly asked for permission but was turned down. Eventually, however, the song was leaked on the radio and became a hit.

Led Zeppelin (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

Led Zeppelin vs. Spirit

“Stairway To Heaven” is one of the most popular songs in rock music history. But was it really written by Jimmy Page (right) and Robert Plant (center)? The heirs of Randy Wolfe, singer and guitarist of the band Spirit, expressed some strong doubts about that in 2014. On March 9, 2020, a US appeals court reinstated a ruling that Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven” from Wolfe’s piece.

Singer Lana Del Rey (Imago/PA Images/D. Lawson)

Lana Del Rey vs. Radiohead vs. The Hollies

It can’t be denied that Lana Del Rey’s song “Get Free” sounds a lot like “Creep,” Radiohead’s famous hit. The band therefore wants writers’ credits on the song. Ironically, some parts of “Creep” have been copied as well, namely from The Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe” from 1974. In this case, the two bands came to an extrajudicial agreement.

Sam Smith 2014 (picture-allianc/empics/Y. Mok)

Sam Smith vs. Tom Petty

The music industry has recently been haunted by numerous plagiarism controversies. In 2014, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” triggered some uproar. The song was said to have been inspired by Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” Rock legend Petty (1950 – 2017) then obtained some of the royalties. But he wasn’t angry, stating that the similarities may have occurred incidentally.

Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke (picture-alliance/AP)

Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams vs. Marvin Gaye

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were less lucky. After it turned out that their successful hit “Blurred Lines” was a rip-off of Marvin Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up,” they had to dig deep into their pockets. In 2013, they had to pay roughly seven million dollars to Gaye’s heirs, even though they continued to deny that they had copied Gaye’s song.

Kraftwerk live (picture-alliance/dpa/RMV via ZUMA Press/Mike Tudor)

Moses Pelham & Sabrina Setlur vs. Kraftwerk

In one case, just two seconds of sound resulted in a 20-year lawsuit that raised the question: Where does plagiarism start, especially in the digital era? Music producer Moses Pelham sampled two seconds of the beat of “Metall auf Metall,” a hit of the German band Kraftwerk, for the song “Nur mir” of rapper Sabrina Setlur. The case ended up before the European Court of Justice.

Shakira vs. Ramón Arias Vásquez

Yet another pop star accused of plagiarism is Shakira. In 2014, a US federal court came to the conclusion that her hit “Loca” was an illegal copy of the song “Loca con su Tiguere” by Ramón Arias Vásquez from the Dominican Republic. Several million records of Shakira’s “Loca” were sold all over the world.

Bob Dylan (picture alliance/dpa/J.Lo Scalzo)

Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech

It was US journalist Andrea Pitzer who noticed that roughly 20 sentences of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize speech were copied. Dylan made use of an online interpretation aid for students of Melville’s classical novel “Moby Dick” without however mentioning the source.

Jeff Koons vs. Jean-François Bauret

Plagiarism also abounds in the world of art. US artist Jeff Koons, a representative of pop art, had to pay €20,000 in damages after a Paris-based court found that his porcelain statue “Naked” was an imitation of a work by French photographer Jean-François Bauret.

Courtesy: DW