Though there have been plenty of times when musicians were sued for plagiarizing one of their songs, this usually only happens when the song becomes a hit. Musicians steal from each other far more than you might think, and most of the time it isn't brought to court. Here are seven great artists who could have been sued for plagiarism, but weren't.
1. Deerhunter - "Basement Scene" (2010)
Deerhunter vocalist and lead songwriter Bradford Cox claims that he writes songs using a stream-of-consciousness method, so it's surprising that he doesn't accidentally rip-off melodies more often. The melody for Deerhunter's song "Basement Scene" has an undeniable resemblance to the Everly Brothers' classic "All I Have To Do Is Dream," a resemblance supplemented by Cox's use of the word "dream" as the opening lyric.
2. Pavement - "Silence Kid" (1994)
Much like Deerhunter, Pavement also accidentally borrowed something from a '50s classic. Though disguised nicely with some messy alt-rock fuzz and off-key vocals, the sweet verse melody for 1994's "Silence Kid," sounds an awful lot like Buddy Holly's pop ballad "Everyday."
3. PJ Harvey - "In The Dark Places" (2011)
PJ Harvey's incredible 2011 album Let England Shake is a tribute to her native country, so perhaps her swiping of the chord progression to the Smiths "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," for "In the Dark Places," is a sly tribute to one of England's greatest bands, because the progression is simply too iconic to have been subconsciously stolen.
4. The Flaming Lips - "What is the Light?" (1999)
The Flaming Lips are no strangers to accusations of plagiarism: the band's 2003 single "Fight Test" was so similar to Cat Stevens' "Father & Son" that Stevens now receives 75% of the song's royalties. However, one instance that went under the radar was 1999's "What is the Light?," which is basically a psych-pop rewrite of Pink Floyd's "Vera." The Flaming Lips are (quite famously) enormous Pink Floyd fans, so there's no doubt that Wayne Coyne has heard the song before.
5. The Smiths - "Panic/Shoplifters of the World Unite" (1986/1987)
Though Morrissey often took lyrics from outside sources, he rarely took them from other songs. Guitarist Johnny Marr, however, borrowed liberally from two T. Rex songs when writing two singles released late in the Smiths' career. 1986's "Panic" is based on the same chord progression as "Metal Guru," while the chorus to 1987's "Shoplifters of the World Unite" has the same melody as "Children of the Revolution."
6. Nirvana - "Come As You Are" (1991)
The dark guitar riff from Nirvana's "Come As You Are" is so obviously similar to the Killing Joke's "Eighties" that the band almost didn't release it as a single, fearing a plagiarism lawsuit. Though the Killing Joke did notice the similarities and claimed it was plagiarized, it never filed a lawsuit against Nirvana.
7. The Jam - "Start!" (1980)
If you're going to rip-off a bassline or guitar riff for your own song, the Beatles are probably the last band you should steal from, because they could crush pretty much every other band on Earth. However, the Jam made the admirably gutsy move of swiping from a Beatles track for its 1980 single "Start!," which has a bass and guitar line that sound just like the George Harrison-penned "Taxman." Despite the fact that "Start!" was a number one hit, the Beatles surprisingly never sued, probably because George Harrison wasn't the kind of guy who would bring anyone to court.