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4 Famous Copyright Cases and the Lessons they Hold

4 Famous Copyright Cases and the Lessons they Hold


Perhaps nothing underscores the importance of acquiring the proper intellectual rights to a work of art before utilizing quite the way that those famous celebrity spats do. After all, these cases often involve millions of dollars, and receive enormous amounts of publicity. Although not every copyright case is so dramatic, most copyright cases are fought over the same simple reasons: failure to respect intellectual rights. Here are a few famous cases that brought copyright issues too late, and even helped establish precedent for future cases around the world.

“Bitter Sweet Symphony,” by the Verve (1997) vs. “The Last Time,” by the Rolling Stones (written by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) (1965)

Shortly after the release of the Rolling Stone’s song “The Last Time” in 1965, then-manager Andrew Loog Oldham recorded an orchestral version of the song that would dwell in obscurity for more than three decades. That is, until a band called The Verve decided to sample this orchestration for their hit song Bitter Sweet Symphony in 1997. Although the band actually went through the proper channels and acquired rights to a 5 second snippet of Oldham’s recording, they ended up using a longer segment. As a result, the Rolling Stones sued, and ended up winning 100% ownership of the rights to the song. Adding insult to injury, the song was then used in several advertisements against the wishes of The Verve.

“My Sweet Lord,” by George Harrison (1970) vs. “He’s So Fine,” by the Chiffons (written by Ronnie Mack) (1962)

The musical similarities between these two songs are undeniable: so much so that, in order to strengthen their court case, the Chiffon’s actually recorded their own version of “My Sweet Lord” in order to demonstrate the similarities! Harrison was eventually found guilty of “subconscious plagiarism,” and order to pay the Chiffons more than a million dollars.

“Ice Ice Baby,” by Vanilla Ice (1989) vs. “Under Pressure,” by Queen, David Bowie (1981)

In this case, Vanilla Ice lost his case quite easily, having essentially sampled Queen and Bowie without permission–and, because the case was so clear cut, Vanilla Ice received perhaps more public criticism than the Verve or George Harrison received in their cases. The damages caused by improper use of copyright are oftentimes more than simply financial: they carry weight in terms of reputation, as well.

What can we learn from these cases?

Attention to detail is important–as is making an effort and reaching out to the people who own the material you wish to use. In each and every case listed above, the accused artists ended up suffering a greater loss of money, a greater loss of control over their music, and a greater loss of reputation than if they had simply been honest and meticulous from the start.

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