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Cover Songs and the Law

Cover Songs and the Law (copyright)

There have been plenty of lawsuits and or settlements over someone stealing someone else’s song, whether in whole or in part, intentionally or not. Apparently you just can’t be doing that type of thing. I touched on this a bit in previous blogs and there are many examples that I’m aware of (and many I'm not) plus a few more I picked up while doing research, so perhaps a part two or three?

Without getting too technical when it comes to a person wanting to do a cover song they do not need the permission of the owner(s) or writer(s) as the case may be, of the song. There is a thing called 'Compulsory Licence' in the U.S. and similar laws internationally under the 'Berne Convention' that requires compensation be paid to said owners. So in most countries you just need to credit and pay the people who own the song or the 'publishing' rights. I'll blog about that part another time. Then there is the whole idea of  'sampling' a song and how much of it you can use without having to credit the owners. Today I'm focusing on covers where payment and credit was not given originally.

Sometimes it is just the melody, sometimes lyrics, maybe a bit of both or, in the case of John Fogerty you can sound too much like yourself.😕

First let’s get one thing clear, I’m a pretty big John Fogerty fan (I've seen him play twice) and that love would of course include the stuff with CCR (Creedence Clearwater Revival) which for the most part was John Fogerty, so I’m biased here. The other CCR band members that included Johns older brother Tom (deceased Sept. 6, 1990) were talented but John wrote the lyrics, music, had the best voice (somewhat disputed) and was the best musician (undisputed).
As with any break-up there are two sides to every story and with this one there are at least 5 sides, suffice to say John Fogerty's former boss at Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz and he had a major falling out. So much so John admittedly was so bitter he stopped playing music for almost 10 years. Some years after the nasty split up of CCR, Fogerty recorded two songs aimed squarely at Zaentz, "Zanz Kant Danz" and "Mr. Greed".
So what does all this have to do with cover songs, well believe it or not this is a very short version of a long story, but it comes down to (amid several other lawsuits) Fogerty being sued by Fantasy Records (Saul Zaentz) over the song “Old Man Down the Road”. Written by John Fogerty (1984)

The claim asserted that the song is a copy of the tune “Run Through the Jungle” not coincidentally written by John Fogerty and recorded by CCR in 1970.

Problem was Fantasy Records owned the rights to the song, “Run Through the Jungle” (along with all of CCR’s other songs), John Fogerty did not. Turns out this was a bit of a landmark case during which I’ve read he played guitar to prove his point that the 'CCR' sound was ‘himself’ so naturally some of his songs would sound similar but the two songs were in fact different. The judge found that an artist cannot plagiarize himself. He eventually won a counter suit in Supreme Court to recoup lawyer fees and was awarded 1.35 million dollars.
Ok let’s keep it happy with another cover!
The Old Man down the Road” by Vaneese Thomas 2014

Here are some other songs that have been disputed as covering in whole or in part the original.

My Sweet Lord” (covered over 100 times) by George Harrison (1970) after the lawsuit writing credit to George Harrison and Ronnie Mack.

He’s So Fine” (covered 15 times) written by Ronnie Mack, recorded by the Chiffons. The lawsuit was upheld that this song was the original. George admitted this song my have been in his head while writing My Sweet Lord and he inadvertently used the melody. I completely believe it was not intentional.

The Beatles “Come Together” written by John Lennon, Paul McCartney. Released in 1969
The owners of the Chuck Berry song  "You Can't Catch Me” alleged (Chuck Berry who wrote) the songs lyrics say, "Here come a flat-top, he was movin' up with me," while the Lennon composition includes the lyric, "Here come ol' flat-top, he come groovin' up slowly." here is Chuck's song;
There was an agreement reached with John Lennon to avoid a lawsuit. Once again a Chuck Berry song comes up, seeing how he influenced a whole generation of songwriters and singers he (or at least the various owners of his songs) could have sued a lot of people!
Just a note about the song writing credits for the Beatles songs, most being written by either John or Paul or sometimes both, but all credits have John Lennon's name first and Paul McCartney's name second.  This was a bit of a sore spot for Paul and I saw an interview where he said he would like them changed to his name first if he wrote the song by himself and John's name first if he wrote it solo. I can understand this way of thinking from Paul and I don't think it's an ego thing so much as it's pointing out who was responsible for writing which song. Truth is we pretty much know who actually wrote which song but it's not represented in the song credits.
Not to drone on but when you see the credits on an actual record they just typically list the names of the people 'credited' with the song and not necessarily who wrote the music and who wrote the lyrics. Also sometimes names were added and or changed to give people the financial benefits coming from the publishing rights and they may not have had anything to do with composing the song in any way at all, not to mention aliases used by songwriters for various reasons. 

Ronald Selle alleged his demo song “Let It End” was copied by the Bee Gee’s in
How Deep is Your Love”.
How Deep is Your Love” (covered about 150 times) written by Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb, Robin Gibb released in 1977. Here is a nice short clip from a talk show. Are these guys amazing or what!
 The full song.
How Deep Is Your Love by Chantal Chamberland (2005)
A prior judgement against the Bee Gee’s was overturned. Thank goodness for that!

Queen & David Bowie “Under Pressure” and Vanilla Ice, "Ice Ice Baby". Here is a clip pointing out the similarity.
The case was settled out of court. Bowie and members of Queen all received compensation and songwriting credit on the track, although still not officially listed on the song credits. Here is the original song written by Freddie Mercury, John Deacon, David Bowie, Brian May, Roger Taylor. Released in 1981. “Under Pressure

Dazed and Confused” just like the name of the song I’m confused over this one. There is a song released by Jake Holmes in 1967. Linked below but I suggest you read the rest before you click,
Jake Holmes album cover
Jake Holmes opened for the Yardbirds for a few concerts in 1967 and shortly after the Yardbirds began playing the song “Dazed and Confused” themselves. Over time the words got changed but they never recorded it. Fast forward to Jimmy Page with his new band Led Zeppelin. More words got changed and the song became this (linked below) released in 1969.
Official song credits were always; Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. Most everyone knows this song as a Zeppelin tune.
Far as I can tell from my reading about this, Jake asked for official song writing credit and some remuneration around 1970 or 1971, they never paid him a penny and basically ignored him.  He did finally bring a lawsuit in 2010 and they settled out of court in 2011 for an undisclosed sum. The song credits now say “inspired by Jake Holmes”. ( credits writers as Jake Holmes, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant) and a best of Album added Jake's name as well. Not the only time this has come up with Led Zeppelin and that alone could fill a blog or three, perhaps another time.

Click here for a playlist of all the Youtube Videos

Cover song trivia: I think I mentioned the Beatles are the most covered 'performers' (apart from Lennon/McCartney themselves as songwriters) but who is number two? Duke Ellington.

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