Two of my favorite topics are music and copyright law. When they converge, I’m utterly fascinated. Ann from New Zealand wrote about Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree, a children’s song I learned from a songbook in my elementary school. What I discovered from Ann was that the song was not in the public domain, as I had assumed, but was written in 1934 and is still under copyright. More to the point, the Australian group Men at Work have been successfully sued for lifting bits of Kookaburra and putting it on their 1982 international hit Down Under, where I first heard about vegemite.
But the theft wasn’t discovered until a judge on some TV music show misidentified Down Under as Kookaburra fairly recently. I find this hysterical because I recognized the flute bit as a swipe of Kookaburra right away, but I didn’t think it was substantial enough to be a copyright violation if in fact it was taken from a copyrighted song.
I hear a lot of licks off records, especially on live albums. In fact, Martin Mull did a song called Licks (Off of Records), parodying the trend.
Eric Clapton famously lifted Blue Moon and put it in the guitar solo on Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, apparently without repercussions. Likewise, Bill Cosby swiped Purple Haze for the title song from his Hooray For The Salvation Army Band! album, apparently without legal action.
What songs have you heard that seem to steal from other songs without attribution, either music or lyrics? Note that Weird Al and MC Hammer, among others, always credited their sources.