5 High-Profile Plagiarism Cases That Cost Celebrities Dearly in Fines and Royalties

Contributor
From www.justluxe.com, by Mila Pantovich
5 High-Profile Plagiarism Cases That Cost Celebrities Dearly in Fines and Royalties

Amy Schumer’s recent run in with plagiarism claims only serves to remind us that original ideas can be pretty hard to come by—especially when it involves art. So far, nothing has happened to the comedian other than a lot of side-eye and finger pointing, but other artists haven’t fared so well in the past. Plenty of filmmakers, musicians, comedians and authors have been in legal trouble regarding the authenticity of their work and while they sometimes get a mere slap on the wrist, other times the affair ends in some serious fines. Lucky for Schumer, legal battles rarely happen to comedians, but that definitely isn’t the case in the music and film industries.

Here are a few artists who have been forced to settle after copyright infringement claims and while exact amounts are very rarely disclosed, it’s pretty easy to guess that in many of these cases, the numbers probably reached the million-dollar mark.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams vs. Marvin Gaye’s Kids

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams may have found a hit in their song Blurred Lines, but it ended up costing them $7.4 million after Marvin Gaye’s family noticed its similarity to the R&B legend’s Got to Give it Up. Though the case divided fans down the middle, since it was less about actual copying than it was about similar sounding chords, the federal jury still ruled in favor of Gaye’s children and demanded that the singers pay up. 

The Verve vs. The Rolling Stones

The Verve may not be very famous anymore, but their 1997 song Bittersweet Symphony has remained one of pop music’s most enduring tunes. What you may not know is how The Verve caught onto that song’s killer sound—bear with us here, because this gets a little messy. The Verve found themselves drawn to an instrumental version of The Rolling Stones’ song The Last Time that they really liked, so they reached out to the record company behind the song and negotiated a license to use a five-note sample. The problem was that they didn’t think to get permission from The Rolling Stones and when their label and manager found out, The Verve found themselves in some serious hot water. After settling out of court, the younger band had to relinquish all of the song’s royalties and rights to the Stones and their label. Naturally, the label then spread the song everywhere—including tons of commercials—and just continued to rake in millions in royalties for itself and the Stones. Keith Richards and Mick Jagger will be reaping the benefits for the rest of their lives and while the exact number isn’t known, you can bet it’s in the high millions by now. 

Vanilla Ice vs. Queen

Definitely the most widely-known case on this list, Vanilla Ice got in some trouble over Ice, Ice, Baby bearing an uncanny resemblance to Queen’s Under Pressure hit recorded with David Bowie. Not only was he publicly ridiculed for his constant sampling denials, Ice must have known that he was in the wrong because he settled before the case ever even hit the courts. Exact numbers have been kept secret, but considering how popular that song was in the ‘80s, we’re sure he’s lost out on a lot in royalties. 

john travoltaPhoto Credit: Tri-Star Pictures
Jeanne Meyers and Rita Stern vs. Tri-Star Pictures and Amy Heckerling

Look Who’s Talking starring John Travolta and Kirstie Alley made a killing in the box office in 1989, and independent writers and producers Jeanne Meyers and Rita Stern were not happy about it. The duo opened a $20 million lawsuit against Tri-Star Pictures and the director/writer Amy Heckerling in 1991, claiming that some scenes and the entire premise were lifted directly from a student project they had given to Heckerling three year prior. Even though the director denied ever meeting the two writers, in the end the courts sided with Meyers and Stern. 

John Carpenter vs. Luc Besson

Music isn’t the only place where plagiarism claims run rampant; sometimes it happens in the film world too. Last year, director John Carpenter wasn’t pleased to find that the plot for Luc Besson’s Lockout was very similar to his film, Escape From New York. In response, he (along with Studiocanal) took Besson’s studio EuropaCorp and Lockout co-writers Stephen St. Leger and James Mather to the courts. In the end, EuropaCorp had to pay $22,800 to Carpenter, $11,400 to screenwriter Nick Castle and $57,000 to Studiocanal. 

johnny cashPhoto Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Honorable Mention: Johnny Cash vs. Gordon Jenkins

It’s hard to imagine that Johnny Cash would ever take someone else’s work as his own, but that’s not how Gordon Jenkins felt. It’s pretty well known nowadays that Folson Prison Blues took heavily from Crescent City Blues and as a result, ending up settling out of court for $75,000. Sure, that is pretty paltry now, but back in 1955, that would be closer to $660,000 now.