Copyright Craziness: Radiohead Claims Lana Del Rey Ripped Off Its Song

Is it "Creep"?


Musicians, or their lawyers, have increasingly sensitive ears, leading them to hear strong similarities between what most people would consider different songs. The results could have a chilling effect on creativity.

The latest example: Radiohead is suing singer-songwriter Lana del Rey, she says, for supposed similarities between her recent song "Get Free" and Radiohead's 1990s hit "Creep." The two tracks don't sound very similar to me, but here is a comparison:

It seems a weaker case even than when the estate of Marvin Gaye sued the creators of "Blurred Lines," claiming the hit 2013 song was a rip off of Gaye's "Got to Give It Up." Those two songs undeniably shared something of a sound, though as Pharrell Williams explained in his testimony, they diverged considerably in the details. That should have been enough for the judge to dismiss the case. Unfortunately, the court ruled in favor of Gaye's estate, awarding it $7.4 million in damages, which Gaye's family has been fighting over ever since.

A few months before that, representatives for Sam Smith and for Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne came to an agreement to share song-writing credits and royalties for Smith's "Stay With Me," which had some resemblances to Petty and Lynne's "I Won't Back Down." Smith claimed never to have heard the older song, but he agreed to settle anyway.

According to del Rey, Radiohead wants "100 percent" of her publishing for the song. She told concertgoers yesterday that she may have to pull the song from future pressings of her album Lust for Life.

Radiohead itself was successfully sued for ripping off a chord progression and a melody from the Hollies' 1972 song "The Air That I Breathe." The song that allegedly borrowed the Hollies' music? None other than "Creep":

Maybe it's a small miracle Major Lazer hasn't come after Del Rey for the title. They have a song also called "Get Free" on their 2013 album Free the Universe. Uh oh.

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  1. “The two tracks don’t sound very similar to me”

    Then you should never comment on music related issues ever again, since you apparently lack the capacity.

    1. Yeah! Leave judging music to the real audiophiles Krayewski you dick!

      1. MTJonny paid $250 apiece for these speaker cables, and he doesn’t regret it!

      1. Actually just listened to it and it is similar. Carry on.

        1. There is only so many notes in music, bound to have redundancy. I say as long as the artist uses it a different way and doesn’t consciously steal the lyrics and riff everyone should be ok with it.

          1. Who can own a sound?

            1. Did you know that you can own a color? Pigment combinations, such as for wall paint, can be patented, and imitating a patented color, even with other pigments, can be considered patent infringement.

            2. Intel. Dolby. Harley-Davidson. Law & Order.

          2. I want to unconsciously steal the lyrics and chord progression.

            “Hope you don’t mind…It suits me more than it ever suited you…”

            –Richard Thompson

        2. It’s a lot more similar than the Hollies. As in, it sounds like an actual ripoff to me. Not that anybody should be sued for it, though.

    2. I’m tone deaf so all sound sounds the same.

      Pay me!

    3. > Then you should never comment on music related issues ever again, since you apparently lack the capacity.

      Ditto that. How could anybody think they don’t sound very similar?? They’re practically identical!

      And on the other hand, Blurred Lines is very, very different from Got to Give It Up. Common groove, sure, but melody, progression — all the traditional things one looks at for infringement — completely different.

      Anybody who thinks that claim is stronger than this one certainly should not be commenting on such issues.

  2. To my musically untrained ear, I think they sound somewhat similar actually.

    When listening to the Lana version I could imagine the lyrics of Creep being played over it with maybe some changes in how they are sung..a little faster in some places a little slower in others.

    I wouldn’t confuse them though.

    I think it more in the line of how a lot of pop songs seem to (over)use the same three or four chords. There’s only so much variation available.

    1. I wouldn’t confuse them though.

      And that should be the end of it. The only justification for compensating Radiohead would be that the records are so indistinguishable that Radiohead might lose money due to people buying Del Rey’s record as an acceptable substitute for Creep. That fans would never mistake one for the other or accept one as a substitute for the other means that Radiohead is suffering no loss of sales due to sales of Get Free. Case dismissed, if the laws made sense.

      1. Yeah, that should be the only question in a case like this.

        It’s nuts. Music works as part of a tradition. That necessarily means that songs will sound a bit like other songs in one way or another. Most people would find entirely original music to be unpleasant because it doesn’t work in the context of the musical tradition that they know. Just try listening to some modernist classical music.

      2. Actually I probably would buy one as a substitute for the other, whichever was cheaper. Because I would hear the “Creep” lyrics in my head as I played the other, so I get them for free.

        1. Someday the technology will exist to bill you for hearing it in your head.

      3. No. If it is a ripoff it represents lost licensing fees that Radiohead could have collected.

        Otherwise producers from different genres could openly steal each other’s material with no consequence. A documentary maker could insert an entire Simpsons episode into their 2 hour documentary, and then correctly claim that nobody looking to watch a Simpsons episode would buy their documentary instead.

      4. The only justification for compensating Radiohead would be that the records are so indistinguishable that Radiohead might lose money due to people buying Del Rey’s record as an acceptable substitute for Creep.

        Even assuming that were correct, by this theory, any crappy rendition of a song shouldn’t be a copyright infringement, right?

        Or if anybody used the song in a commercial or film, that shouldn’t be a copyright infringement, since such (ostensibly) would not compete with song sales.

        Copyright has its problems — mainly relating to term length, IMO — but you’ve got a pretty odd theory of the appropriate rights of authorship, whether looking at such from a moral perspective, or a utilitarian one.

    2. I think it more in the line of how a lot of pop songs seem to (over)use the same three or four chords. There’s only so much variation available.

      That’s why eventually pop music will have no choice but to veer towards atonalism.

      1. A lot of HipHop is there already.

  3. I was halfway through listening to a Radiohead album the other day before I realized I was actually listening to Lana del Rey 🙁 🙁 🙁

  4. Also a ripoff:

    Roar by Katy Perry is clearly a ripoff of Brave by Sara Bareilles. And those songs are only separated by four months.

    1. Major difference – Brave doesn’t give me ear cancer.

  5. Geez, what a little crybaby.

    1. Also a creep and a loser.

      And I really like Radiohead.

  6. She should he sued by the Vines too. Get Free was the only song they ever had.

  7. Also, Major Lazer should sue everyone for not being Mad Decent.

  8. This is one of those things where it’s clear that some things are one one side of the line, and it’s clear that other things are on the other side of the line, but there are a bunch of things that are close to the line and there’s no good way to discern exactly where they fall.

    1. Vernon Depner got it right above. I think that his answer makes for a pretty discernable line.

  9. Don’t ask me–I thought George Harrison got the shaft.

    1. Me too, but at least we got another what I thought was decent song out of it.

  10. Radiohead itself was successfully sued for ripping off a chord progression and a melody from the Hollies’ 1972 song “The Air That I Breathe.” The song that allegedly borrowed the Hollies’ music? None other than “Creep”:

    Meaning that presumably they will win this lawsuit, or perhaps more correctly the Hollies will win this lawsuit.

    Ridiculous, of course, when considering that there are only so many chords one can play. Inevitably there will be similar arrangements.

    I’m still awaiting ‘The Orville’ to be successfully sued by CBS since it and Star Trek appear to be more similar than these two songs. /sarc

    1. Parody is a valid defense in copyright infringement. As long as Seth McF continues to try to be funny*, he’s safe from Paramount’s clutches. The Galaxy Quest producers never had any worries, either.

      * YMMV

  11. It takes some chutzpah to sue someone for copyright infringement when you were successfully sued over the same song.

  12. I predict a mistrial as all the jurors keep falling asleep.

  13. The Moon Loungers clip didn’t even cover the bridge from “Creep” that is most obviously ripped off from the bridge from “The Air That I Breathe”.

    1. “Creep” doesn’t have a bridge.

  14. When the first US copyright laws were passed, they did not allow copyrighting of songs, for the reason that originality could not be proved. They made the right decision.

  15. Unfortunately the music history has a long history of winning lawsuits based on extremely nebulous music similarities. Some of them spectacularly silly involving nothing more than an opening chord, the musical equivalent of claiming to have invented the letter Q.

    1. I actually did invent the uppercase ‘Q’. You owe me $0.05 or I’m suing.

      1. Well, give me your PayPal because I’m not gonna stop calling you a Queer.

  16. At some point won’t every song kind of sound like every other song? In English we only have so many word combinations and tunes that are pleasant to our ears.

    Its the main reason that copyrights should not last life of artist plus 70 years.

    If you can’t make money on your works in say 30 years or for your entire lifetime, then too bad.

    1. With millions of published popular songs out there, we no doubt passed that point long ago. You can be sure that every usable harmonic cadence and melodic phrase has been used many times before. These inevitable similarities become an issue only when a new song makes a lot of money and publishers see a chance to cash in on an “infringement”.

      Songs should not be copyrighted at all. No songs are completely original anymore. A truly original song today would have to be so weird that it would never make any money, anyway.

      1. A truly original song today would have to be so weird that it would never make any money, anyway.

        For example:

        1. Sorry, but that is clearly a rip-off of the Super Chicken theme song.

          1. Maybe a little, but much more Pinafore.

  17. I was not familiar with “Get Free”, but as soon as I heard it here, I thought of it as a cover of “Creep”, enough so that I could sing along ahead of “Get Free” by my memory of “Creep”. Often I find abstract similarities, but in this case the resemblance was quite concrete.

    1. You can sing along because the chord progression is the same. There’s nothing unusual about that?there is a small number of harmonic cadences that are useful in pop music and they get used over and over. It is certain that many songs have been published using those chords, but most of them never sold and so we never heard of them. The only time similarities like this lead to a lawsuit is when a publisher with lots of money for lawyers finds an opportunity in a song that is making lots of money.

      If we’re going to consider an identical chord progression to be grounds for an infringement suit, then anyone who has ever recorded a blues should owe damages to the estate of W.C. Handy.

      1. Fuck the chord progression, they lifted the damn melody!

        1. It’s an exaggeration to say that Creep has a melody.

        2. And of course you’re begging the question of whether anyone should own a melody.

  18. I’d say “Stay With Me” has more than just “some resemblances” to “I Won’t Back Down.” “Stay With Me” is in substantial part just a slower tempo version of the earlier song with different orchestration. (You can find YouTube comparisons that layer the songs pretty easily.) You can argue that copyright shouldn’t exist (or should be much more limited in scope), but to the extent it exists I wasn’t troubled with the determination that “Stay With Me” infringed on “I Won’t Back Down.”

  19. “Creep” and “The Air That I Breathe” do mash up very well, but I don’t get the sense of rip-off from that that I do of “Get Free” from “Creep”.

    A few yrs. ago at a performance by Knotwork I recognized an original music composition of theirs (to set an old poem to) as a variation of the theme from “World War 1”, which they said they’d never heard. Cf:

  20. Everybody in the music business rips someone off eventually. Steely Dan, for example, at least had the good sense to rip off someone that was worth ripping off (Keith Jarrett). These pop artists are just ripping off other pop artists, if you can even call them that. How boring is that?

    1. >i>Here comes Johnny Yen again
      With the liquor and drugs
      And the flesh machine…..

      Now, that’s “Lust for Life.” Or, it’s an Irving Stone novel. You can’t copyright titles.

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