Harmony & Law: 10 Landmark Music Copyright Battles That Reshaped Creativity

Bright Tunes Music vs. Harrisongs Music (1976)

George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" was found to have copied the melody of The Chiffons' "He's So Fine." Harrison was ordered to pay over $500,000 in damages.

Grand Upright Music, Ltd. vs. Warner Bros. Records Inc. (1991)

Gilbert O’Sullivan’s lawsuit against rapper Biz Markie for unauthorized sampling in "Alone Again" led to a ruling that established the need for clearances for samples.

Bridgeport Music, Inc. vs. Dimension Films (2005)

The Sixth Circuit Court ruled that any unauthorized sampling, no matter how small, infringes on copyright, in a case involving the movie "I Got the Hook Up."

BMG Music vs. Gonzalez (2005)

This case reinforced that downloading music without paying for it is illegal, resulting in a Texas woman being fined for using file-sharing software to download music.

F.B.T. Productions, LLC vs. Aftermath Records (2009)

Eminem’s producers sued his record label for higher royalty payments for digital downloads and ringtones, leading to a landmark ruling on digital music royalties.

Capitol Records, LLC vs. Vimeo, LLC (2016)

The Second Circuit found Vimeo liable for copyright infringement for user-uploaded videos that included unauthorized music, emphasizing the responsibility of service providers in copyright enforcement.

The Beach Boys vs. Chuck Berry (Surfin' U.S.A. vs. Sweet Little Sixteen)

The Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A." closely mirrored Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen," leading to Berry receiving songwriting credits and royalties after a lawsuit threat​​.

2 Live Crew vs. Roy Orbison (Pretty Woman vs. Oh, Pretty Woman)

The Supreme Court ruled 2 Live Crew's parody of Orbison's song was fair use, setting a precedent for parody in copyright law​​.

The Verve vs. The Rolling Stones (Bitter Sweet Symphony vs. The Last Time)

The Verve lost all royalties and credits for "Bitter Sweet Symphony" after using a larger segment of a Stones song than allowed, showcasing the complexities of sampling rights​​.

Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke & Pharrell Williams (Got to Give It Up vs. Blurred Lines)

Thicke and Williams were ordered to pay the Gaye family $5.3 million for copyright infringement, highlighting the importance of originality in music composition​​.