Sue Sue, Sue-dio: The Ten Most Interesting Lawsuits In Music History
The finger-pointing game has begun in the wake of this year's Electric Daisy Carnival.
Although any legal repercussions in regards to the festival that took place this weekend have yet to be determined, we're keeping our eye on the whole thing -- mostly because, let's face it, music and legal action are frequent bedfellows.
The biggest music lawsuit saw far this year? It involves Eminem's song "Lose Yourself," and the Chrysler corporation using it for commercials. Audi's new commercials, turns out, feature a strikingly similar song -- and Em's people have decided to duke the whole matter out in court.
Lawsuits just happen -- perhaps more than ever before in our now very litigious present. Some have merit, sure. But others are just plain frivolous. Those that gain notoriety usually do so because of size, ridiculousness or odd subject matter.
Either way, we've decided to take a look at the top 10 most interesting music lawsuits of all time. We had a lot to choose from. But these are the legal proceedings that are accompanied by the best stories.
10. Mattel v. Aqua, 1997. Aqua's hit "Barbie Girl" was all over the radio that year, and Mattel took notice -- and offense. Claiming that the lyrics, which describe Barbie as a "blonde bimbo," tarnished Barbie's image and infringed upon copyright, Mattel sued. The case was promptly dismissed, though; a judge in the case stated, no joke, "the parties are advised to chill."
9. Slipknot v. Burger King, 2005. When Burger King released an ad featuring a heavy metal band made up of chickens wearing masks (dubiously dubbed "Coq Roq"), Slipknot threatened legal action -- because they are of course the only band to ever don masks*. Burger King responded with legal action of their own, demanding that a Miami federal court exempt them from any lawsuits, from Slipknot or anyone else, over the Coq Roq ad.
(* For those too dim to realize that we're kidding, we officially state that we are, in fact, kidding. Don't sue us, please. We're writers, and we're broke. )
8. Jackson Browne v. Ohio Republican Party, 2008. Ohio Republicans should've seen this one coming, as Browne has famously campaigned for left-wing political candidates for years. And yet, despite this being fairly common knowledge, the Ohio Republican Party put out an anti-Obama television ad in 2008 that played Browne's "Running on Empty" in the background. Browne sued, of course. He also won.
7. Joe Jackson v. pretty much everyone, 2009-ongoing. Michael Jackson had barely been buried before his estranged father began suing everyone within reach. Joe Jackson sued Dr. Conrad Murray, AEG Entertainment, Michael's estate and probably a few more people, too. The legal proceedings were given a collective side-eye by the world at large, due to the fact that Joe's relationship with his son was strained at best. At press time, Joe Jackson is himself being sued for releasing a perfume with Michael's name on it. Will the litigious madness ever end? Probably not. Michael's life was a circus; his death has been no different.
6. GAYNGS v. C.J. Starbuses, 2010. When indie-rock supergroup GAYNGS stopped for the night en route to their gig at Austin City Limits in 2010, they woke to find their tour bus -- and all the equipment in it -- missing. Understandably, the band freaked out, assuming that the bus had been stolen. They were forced to cancel their ACL gig as a result. Turns out what really happened was a bizarre chain of events that began when GAYNGS were late in paying their bill to C.J. Starbuses, the company that owned their bus. As a result, the company called their driver in the wee hours of the morning and ordered him to drive the bus back to the company's Nashville headquarters without notifying the band. GAYNGS, in turn, sued -- and won a six-figure settlement.
5+. Mike Batt v. John Cage's estate, 2002. This bizarre lawsuit centers around Cage's infamous piece "4'33", which was four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. When British composer Batt released a tribute piece called "One Minute Silence," and listed the songwriters as "Batt/Cage," Cage's estate sued. That's right: copyright infringement over complete silence. The most surprising part came when Batt lost -- the lawsuit was settled out of court and Batt paid a six-figure sum to Cage's estate.
4. RIAA v. Tenenbaum, 2003-ongoing. Hey, remember Kazaa? It was kind of like Napster's crappy cousin. We could never get it to work right, which may have been to our benefit in the end, as the RIAA began suing individuals for downloading songs on the site in 2003, often for six-figure sums. Most plaintiffs, unable to obtain the legal firepower to fight the case, were forced to settle out of court. But college student Joel Tenenbaum got the backing of a Harvard law professor and fought the lawsuit, playing David to the RIAA's Goliath. In 2010, the RIAA won the case in a court ruling. But Tenenbaum and team have since appealed, promising many more years of litigation.
3. Dave Matthews Band v. Illinois Attorney General, 2004. This bizarre lawsuit began when the band's tour bus dumped over 100 gallons of human waste into the Chicago River as it passed through the city. A tour boat going under the bridge occupied by the bus got a really... err... shitty surprise as a result. The band's management paid $200,000 in civil damages to the city and passengers on the unfortunate boat. How many times do we have to tell you: Don't shit on the bus!
2. Bright Tunes v. Harrisongs, 1971. George Harrison's Harrisongs company was sued by Bright Tunes Music, owners of the copyright to the Chiffons' hit, "He's So Fine," who claimed that Harrison ripped off that song when writing his behemoth, "My Sweet Lord." Bright Tunes won, and Harrison had to pay out. We can't help but wonder, though, if this case would have been decided differently today, considering examples like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" bearing striking similarities to Madonna's "Express Yourself".
1. John Fogerty v. John Fogerty, 1987. OK, so this suit technically pitted Creedence Clearwater Revival's record company against John Fogerty, but this has to go down as the craziest lawsuit in music history. When Fogerty left CCR and released his solo album Centerfield, Fantasy Records, which owned the copyright to all CCR songs, sued, claiming that the song "Old Man Down The Road" sounded too much like "Run Through The Jungle," also penned by Fogerty. In essence, Fogerty was sued for sounding too much like himself. The trial included Fogerty taking the stand with his guitar to play each song for the jury. Fogerty won, and in turn sued CCR's management to recoup his legal fees; he won this case as well.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.