Recently, two pop hits—Robin Thicke, T.I. and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines” and One Direction’s “Best Song Ever”—made headlines for taking inspiration from classic songs.
Irate One Direction fans started a frenzy on Twitter due to rumors that The Who was going to ask YouTube to take down One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” on the grounds that the track bore an uncanny resemblance to The Who’s classic “Baba O’Riley.” The Twitter tempest surrounding the hashtag #donttouchbestsongever eventually led The Who’s frontman Pete Townsend to issue a statement this week assuring Directioners’ that he had no intention of pursuing action against “Best Song Ever.” In fact, he said, he liked the song and, perhaps less believably, One Direction. In the statement, Townsend admitted that he was flattered by the similarity, noting, “I’m happy to think they may have been influenced a little bit by the Who.”
While Townsend was honored by the similarity, not everyone takes it as a compliment. Robin Thicke, Pharrell and T.I. have filed a preemptive lawsuit over their mega-hit track “Blurred Lines” after Marvin Gaye’s estate and Bridgeport music—who own the rights to a number of Funkadelic compositions—reportedly threatened a lawsuit against Thicke et al, on the grounds that “Blurred Lines” was too similar to their copyrighted material, specifically Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” and Funkadelic’s “Sexy Ways.” (While George Clinton of Funkadelic has come out in support of Robin Thicke, Bridgeport Music has not.) The “Blurred Lines” lawsuit states: “There are no similarities between plaintiffs’ composition and those the claimants allege they own, other than commonplace musical elements. Plaintiffs created a hit and did it without copying anyone else’s composition.”
While it’s unusual for two high-profiled claims of musical plagiarism to make headlines in the same week, music has a long history of songs that sound alike. In light of that, it seemed like a good time to revisit the concept of pop plagiarism that we covered last year.