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8 Songs Accused of Plagiarism That Hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100

Whether by osmosis, coincidence, common ancestry or, you know, theft, there are plenty of hit songs that sound suspiciously similar to pre-existing material.

Whether by osmosis, coincidence, common ancestry or, you know, theft, there are plenty of hit songs that sound suspiciously similar to pre-existing material.

Enter the lawsuit. While some artists shrug similarities off, others take it to court, demanding what they perceive is their due when it comes to alleged copyright infringement.

Marvin Gaye Family Lawyer: How I Won the ‘Blurred Lines’ Trial (Guest Column)

From the recent “Blurred Lines” controversy to a legal battle between the Beatles and Chuck Berry, here are eight songs that share two things in common: They topped the Billboard Hot 100, and they were accused of copyright infringement.

Marvin Gaye/Robin Thicke: “Blurred Lines”

“Blurred Lines” was the song of the summer in 2013, topping the Hot 100 for 12 consecutive weeks. The family of Marvin Gaye took notice, accusing Robin Thicke and Pharrell of ripping off Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up” for their smash hit. In March 2015, a jury came down on the side of the Gaye estate, awarding them $7.4 million. 

Joe Satriani/Coldplay: “Viva la Vida”

Coldplay scored their first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2008 with “Viva la Vida,” attracting the attention of guitarist Joe Satriani, who claimed it copied parts of his 2004 instrumental track “If I Could Fly.” The band called it a coincidence but settled out of court with him in 2009.

Queen & David Bowie/Vanilla Ice: “Ice Ice Baby”

Vanilla Ice rode a funky bass line to No. 1 on the Hot 100 in 1990, giving hip-hop its first-ever No. 1 hit on that chart. Unfortunately for him, plenty of listeners pointed out the song’s similarity to the 1981 song “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Queen. While Vanilla Ice denied the similarity at first, he later relented and decided to pay both parties royalties in order to avoid a court battle.

Huey Lewis/Ray Parker Jr.: “Ghostbusters”

In 1984, Ray Parker Jr. asked “who you gonna call?” on his Hot 100 No. 1 “Ghostbusters,” the theme to the film of the same name. Huey Lewis heard the song and answered, “A lawyer.” Lewis sued Parker for plagiarism for copying his song “I Want a New Drug”; the two eventually settled out of court.

Jorge Ben Jor/Rod Stewart: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Brazilian musician Jorge Ben Jor alleged that Rod Stewart’s 1979 No. 1 hit “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” plagiarized portions of his song “Taj Mahal.” The two settled out of court, and in his 2012 autobiography, Stewart admitted to “unconscious plagiarism.”

Ronald Selle/Bee Gees: “How Deep Is Your Love”

Nearly six years after the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love” topped the Hot 100 in late 1977, a songwriter named Ronald Selle alleged that their hit stole from his 1975 demo “Let It End.” While a jury initially found in favor of Selle, the judge permitted the Bee Gees a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and ruled in their favor. An appeal to a higher court also found in favor of the Bee Gees.

The Chiffons/George Harrison: “My Sweet Lord”

When George Harrison notched his first solo No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in Dec. 1970 with “My Sweet Lord,” things were looking up for the freed Beatle. Six years later, a legal battle dampened that victory when a court decided he “subconsciously” copied the Chiffons song “He’s So Fine,” written by Ronald Mack. Harrison claimed the court battle left him too “paranoid” to write new songs for some time.

Chuck Berry/The Beatles: “Come Together”

Some might argue that the man most responsible for forming rock ‘n’ roll could sue any number of ’50s and ’60s hitmakers for aping his sound. While Berry might not have been litigious, the people who owned the publishing rights to some of his material were. Big Seven Music Corp. (owned by Morris Levy) brought a lawsuit against John Lennon for alleged similarities between Berry’s “You Can’t Catch Me” and the Beatles’ “Come Together,” a No. 1 hit in 1969. Berry’s song featured the line, “Here come a flat-top, he was movin’ up with me,” while the Lennon composition includes the lyric, “Here come ol’ flat-top, he come groovin’ up slowly.” The case was settled out of court, with Lennon agreeing to record three rock ‘n’ roll songs owned by Levy. Lennon only officially released two: “Ya Ya” and “You Can’t Catch Me.”