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5 musicians accused of plagiarising their hit tracks

By Francesca Johnson

Mar 8, 2022

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To date, there have been numerous cases of theft in the music business. With hit songs ranging from the likes of Shakira, Katy Perry and even Bruno Mars being called out for alleged plagiarism, the list seems endless. It’s almost become a rite of passage for an artist to face flak over their music being something you’ve heard before, but outright copied? There’s a whole treasure trove of songs that fit that bill.

Where there’s a hit, a lawsuit is sure to follow. So here are five of the most recent additions to the list of musical plagiarisms and you’ll be surprised to know which musicians have made the cut:

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran made headlines this week for his court appearance in which he denied borrowing music without credit in the ongoing plagiarism case made against him. The song in question is Sheeran’s 2017 single ‘Shape of You’, which spent a staggering ​​14 weeks at number one across UK charts at the time. Fighting the copyright claim brought up by writers Sami Chokri and Ross O’Donoghue, Sheeran denied all allegations of lifting from their song ‘Oh Why’, released in 2015.

Sheeran and his crew of co-writers for ‘Shape Of You’—Steven McCutcheon and John McDaid—began initial legal proceedings back in May 2018. They had asked the High Court to declare they had not infringed Chokri and O’Donoghue’s copyright. After this, the ‘Oh Why’ writers issued a counter claim for copyright infringement. The trial began last week and is expected to continue for the next three weeks.

According to the BBC, Sheeran himself self-identified as a “magpie,” someone “who lifts other people’s work without acknowledgment, pointing out that he has often shared credit with lesser-known artists.”

Dua Lipa

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Though she looks stunning decked out in Mugler, Dua Lipa’s music is the hot topic on everyone’s lips and not for good reason. She has recently found herself in a tight spot for her song ‘Levitating’ as she was slammed with a lawsuit for it over claims of composition infringement. The global smash hit spent a whopping 68 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100—which is no easy feat for any artist—but this has drawn the attention of one claimant by the name of Artikal Sound System (a Reggae band from South Florida) who state that Lipa’s song takes from their more obscure 2017 track, ‘Live Your Life’.

@jarredjermaine

The Reggae band Artikal Sound System is sueing Dua Lipa over “Levitating”, do you think this is a reach or not? #dualipa #levitating #music #lawsuit

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According to Variety, “the complaint includes little specific detail beyond claiming that the two tracks are so similar.” However, the lawsuit suggests that it’s “highly unlikely that ‘Levitating’ was created independently.”

Dua Lipa… Again

Twice in four days… not exactly the record that any artist wants to set for themselves, is it? However, Lipa seems to have found herself in hot water yet again this week as another claim has been levied against ‘Levitating’, uh oh.

This time, the claimants irate over being copied are songwriters L. Russell Brown and Sandy Linzer. With this second, more detailed claim from 4 March stating that Lipa copied not one but two songs of the writers. First up, their 1979 song ‘Wiggle and Giggle All Night’, and second, their 1980 song ‘Don Diablo’. The two tracks date way back to the dancing disco era.

The pair assert that the opening melody to ‘Levitating’ was a “duplicate” to the melody of their own songs. On top of this, they claim there are some similarities in the rhythmic delivery in the openings of Lipa and their own verses, before the melodies later diverge. The duo’s attorneys also claim that the segment of the melody in question was a key component to Lipa’s wildly marvelled TikTok song and chart success. ‘Levitating’ currently has 1.2 million videos using it’s sound on TikTok but a big slice of that pie might’ve been chomped out of Brown and Linzer’s plate.

Taylor Swift

One thing that Taylor Swift just couldn’t shake off ironically—despite her now controversial song talking all about it—were the copyright suits that followed  the chart dominating phenomenon that was ‘Shake It Off’.

With an eye watering price tag of $49 million attached to the now dismissed lawsuit, this is another in a series of times Swift has dogged the copyright claim crusade on her music. Several outlets reported that R&B artist Jesse Graham tried to sue Swift multiple times over plagiarism accusations, but though he came out swinging none of the punches landed.

First reported in 2015 by Time, the million dollar figure came up when Graham claimed Swift plagiarised the lyrics to his 2013 song ‘Haters Gone Hate’. Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’ was released the following year. Complete Music Update notes that Graham was labelled “a vexatious litigant”—a term for those who constantly takes legal action without merit—by the judge who oversaw his fourth attempt to win the lawsuit.

Graham’s original lawsuit was dismissed shortly after it was filed and this one has been saddled with the same fate. Fourth time (and Ninth Circle appeal) wasn’t the charm, I guess.

Sam Smith and Normani

March is already shaping up to be a witch hunt for singers who steal.

This time it’s double trouble for a duo. It seems that Normani has a ‘Wild Side’ indeed with the case brought against her and fellow artist Sam Smith for their collaboration ‘Dancing With A Stranger. The 2019 hit has now received accusations of plagiarism in a lawsuit filed on 4 March at Los Angeles federal court, by songwriters Jordan Vincent, Rosco Banlaoi and Christopher Miranda.

The trio claim the hit copies elements from one of their 2017 songs and state both Smith and Normani’s song contains copyrighted components. ‘Dancing with a Stranger’ was a worldwide hit for the pair three years ago, earning a certified four-time platinum status in the US and that or higher in ten other countries. The duo’s first duet also nabbed them a Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) award, an iHeart Radio gong, nominations in Teen Choice categories and even a Brit.

The writers of the original track also uploaded their ‘Dancing With Strangers’ music video to Vincent’s YouTube channel and other sites accusing the video of the same issue. In documents obtained by Rolling Stone, the complaint lists that “the hook/chorus in both songs—the most significant part and artistic aspect of these works—contains the lyrics ‘dancing with a stranger’ being sung over a nearly identical melody and musical composition.”

“As a result of [the] defendants’ exploitation of [the] plaintiff’s song without permission, they obtained a massive international hit single which generated significant revenue and profits,” the lawsuit added.