Songs that didn’t get their writers sued

Yesterday I showed you an editorial I wrote about five years ago, and then kept riffing on it. So, I thought I’d continue that discussion by letting you know that there are other people who share my opinions. Does that mean I “ripped off” their content, or that they “ripped off” mine? Absolutely not. It means that we agree on something. And that’s the point.

If you have twenty minutes, watch this video. It’s really better with the sound on, so maybe watch it later when you can give it some attention.

This is a fairly satisfying video for folks over 45, as it leans more on older songs that you might have heard. You might not have heard some of the songs that “might” be ripoffs of other songs, but you’ll likely have heard the songs they’re similar too.

The maker of this video has a good point toward the end. Pop culture, in fact all of culture, is an ongoing conversation that always builds on prior work. It’s rare when something really new comes around, and even if it is new it’s going to use some building blocks from something past. That’s how society works.

The video also points out that the writers and composers of these videos often times understand this, and it’s the corporate lawyers who are the source of these lawsuits.

Although, sometimes, the lawsuits are right.

One early conflict over copyright surrounds the Beach Boys’ hit “Surfin USA.” It is clearly based on early work from Chuck Berry, a more obscure tune called “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys has never denied this, and very early in the life of the song, the writing credit was changed to include Chuck Berry. However, there was never a lawsuit because both songs were actually published by the same company.

On the other hand, in 1976 a very high profile lawsuit acknowledged that George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was actually the same melody as the previous hit by the Chiffons, “He’s So Fine.” It’s pretty obvious in this video:

Mr. Harrison has always maintained he did this by accident. For my part, I tend to agree with him. I’ve actually written the same article, almost identical, twice for this blog and only realized it later. So it’s possible.

The weirdest copyright case

In what may go down in history as the weirdest copyright case ever, John Fogerty was sued for ripping off… himself. Mr. Fogerty’s band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, released “Run Through The Jungle” in 1970. The band broke up and the publishing rights stayed with the original record company. When Mr. Fogerty, as a solo artist, recorded “The Old Man Down The Road” in 1985, his former record company sued him for sounding too much like himself. You make the call:

It’s worth pointing out that Mr. Fogerty actually won this case, and he did so by showing the court his process for writing songs. I guess the long and short of it is, the court found that Mr. Fogerty just wasn’t a versatile enough songwriter to keep his songs from sounding vaguely the same. Not sure if that’s a compliment.

The point if there is one

The point I’m trying to make is that a lot of times, people realize that copyright laws maybe have gone too far, and it’s not necessary to sue everyone for everything. Now, if someone wrote a song about that, I wonder if I could sue them.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.