Music is limited to number of notes and most rock/pop music uses well established patterns that cannot be copyrighted. All musicians are inspired by other musicians and songs of the past. So when inspiration becomes plagiarism? Legally, musicians who accuse others of stealing their work must prove the alleged plagiarizer must have heard the song—and the songs must share unique musical components. We will play an online court drama where you are the judge. If you can spare the time go to the first link for musical analysis; if short on time, jump to the songs section. If you do not want to participate you can still enjoy the music.

Here is a musical discussion of the difference between inspiration and plagiarism.

18 Songs That ‘Rip Off’ Other Hits

Some popular songs to consider. You decide is it inspiration or plagiarism?

Adele vs Ahmet Kaya

Acılara Tutunmak (Ahmet Kaya 1957-2000) 1985

La Souffrance – Esra Üçcan Dedicated and credited to Ahmet Kaya

Adele – “Million Years Ago” (Live at The Today Show 2015)

Similarity is in the melody of chorus (2nd part ) of the Ahmet Kaya song with the verse (first part) of Adele song. Gulden Kaya, Ahmet Kaya’s widow in an interview said “A great artist like Adele would not plagiarize.” In another interview Gulden Kaya, said “Adele might have plagiarized subconsciouly, if she did it intentionally than it is theft.” So even widow of Ahmet Kaya, who is most to gain financially, is undecided on this issue. Ahmet Kaya’s producer said even though Ahmet Kaya’s song shares a common well known pattern the melody is unique. The controversy was covered in mass media in UK, USA and Turkey. Adele or her spokesperson did not comment on this issue. What do you think?


Led Zeppelin vs Willie Dixon

You Need Love – 1962 – Written by Willie Dixon sung by Muddy Waters

You Need Loving – 1966 – The Small Faces

Whole Lotta Love – 1969 – Led Zeppelin

And the winner is Willie Dixon, full songwriting rights assigned to him. According to the court ruling it was plagiarism. Was the decision right, what do you think?


Beatles vs Chuck Berry

You Can’t Catch Me – 1956 – Chuck Berry

Come Together – 1969 – Beatles

John Lennon stated in an interview that he was inspired by Chuck Berry song. This controversy led to a series of lawsuits and counter-suits. Lennon and Morris Levy (publisher of the song) ultimately came to a deal: Lennon would record songs which Levy owned. According to the deal John Lennon’s solo album Rock ‘n’ Roll included two songs owned by Levy: “Ya Ya” and “You Can’t Catch Me.” “Come Together” was one of John Lennon’s favorite songs, and he denied any plagiarism and was angry about it. According to Lennon he intentionally kept the two similar lines in the lyrics, and said “if plagiarism was my intention I could have easily modified them”. Chuck Berry and John Lennon were good friends, appeared in a TV concert together. What do you think?


Beach Boys vs Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry “Sweet Little Sixteen” – 1958

Beach Boys – Surfing USA – 1963

And the winner is Chuck Berry with full ownership granted by the court. Court ruled as plagiarism. What do you think?


Johnny Cash vs Gordon Jenkins

Crescent City Blues Beverly Mahr singer, Gordon Jenkins songwriter 1953

Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash 1955

And the winner is Gordon Jenkins. In 1971, Johnny Cash paid songwriter Gordon Jenkins an out-of-court settlement of US $75,000 for plagiarizing liberally from Jenkins’ 1953 song “Crescent ity Blues,” for Cash’s 1955 single “Folsom Prison Blues”. What do you think?


George Harrison vs The Chiffons

The Chiffons – Hes so Fine 1963

George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” 1971

Court verdict George Harrison had committed “subconscious” plagiarism and George had to buy the whole publishing company that owned the song for over half million dollars. What do you think? What I think? The melodies may be related but the songs are very different.


Beatles/Carl Perkins vs Blind Lemon Jefferson

Blind Lemon Jefferson – Match Box Blues 1927

Carl Perkins – Matchbox 1957 Carl Perkins claimed ownership of the song.

Beatles – Match Box 1964 Credited to Carl Perkins

Never made it to courts. What do you think?


Disney Corp. vs Soloman Linda of South Africa

Lion Sleeps Tonight

Solomon Linda – Mbube (The Lion Sleeps Tonight) 1939
Soloman Linda (1909 – 1962) the Zulu (South African) composer of the song died with $25 in his bank account

The Weavers-Wimoweh 1952
Pete Seeger of Weavers, learned the song from the original record that was thrown in a dumbster in USA. He transcribed the title as Wimoweh, by mistake. Pete Seeger (of the Weavers), asked his publisher to pay royalties to Soloman Linda; Even though hus publisher assured Pete Seeger that royalties were paid, they did not do it.

Mbube becomes The Lion Sleeps Tonight – The Tokens 1962
George Weiss wrote English lyrics to the song and claimed the songwriting credits.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight is featured in Lion King, Disney Movie 2006
It made huge amounts of money except for the daughters of Soloman Linda who were living in poverty in South Africa. One of Solomon Linda’s daughters said: “It is sad to learn that while The Lion King made millions with Mbube, the composer’s daughters had nothing to eat .”

The Lion Sleeps Tonight is featured in the remake of the Lion King 2019

After a very long legal battle, Disney Corp. settled with lawyers representing daughters of Soloman Linda out of court. They did it only after South African court stated , if Disney Corp. did not recognize a South African trademark, court will consider all Disney Corp. trademarks in South Africa as public domain. Immediately after this threat, Disney Corp. acknowledged Soloman Linda as co-writer of the song and past and future royalties were paid to the daughters of Soloman Linda.

Soloman linda