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Well-known Cases Proving the Importance of Copyright Ownership

This article is part of our series showcasing well-known copyright ownership cases from the music and film industries, technology, and more. 

In this week’s post, we look at two well-known copyright infringement cases involving big bands battling each other over ownership rights.

Vanilla Ice vs David Bowie & Queen

It was the early 90s when “Ice Ice Baby” was a top hit in the charts. We all knew Vanilla Ice back then. What many people don’t know, however, is that the song sampled the baseline of David Bowie and Queen’s hit “Under Pressure.” Vanilla Ice hadn’t credited the sample, and so he faced a copyright lawsuit by both Bowie and Queen. 

On top of not admitting his wrongdoing, he even made a public statement calling the lawsuit “a joke.” 

The case never made it to court, but Vanilla Ice paid Bowie and Queen an undisclosed amount, and finally credited them for the sample.

The Verve vs The Rolling Stones

Another famous example is the dispute between The Verve and the Rolling Stones, which began when The Verve sampled an orchestral version of the Stones’ song “The Last Time” written by arranger David Whitaker. The sample was used on The Verve’s most famous song – Bitter Sweet Symphony. 

While The Verve’s record company, Decca Records, cleared the rights to the orchestral  sample, they hadn’t cleared the rights to the song it was based on. 

So what happened next? Stones manager Allen Klein sued, but later agreed for the sample to be used but only if his record label took 100% of all the publishing rights to the song. 

As a result Bitter Sweet Symphony was released with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards credited as songwriters. 

At the time, The Verve’s frontman Richard Ashcroft told the BBC: 

“I think when you tip your hat to someone, you don’t sample them. You acknowledge them… that has always been part of music. The Stones couldn’t exist if they hadn’t been allowed to tip their hat to Chuck Berry and various others,” he added.

After more than 20 years, the case was actually totally resolved last November, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards signing over all their rights for ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ to Ashcroft, who said “it was a truly kind and magnanimous thing for them to do.” 

At the end of the day, though, it was David Whitaker who wrote the original orchestral piece for “The Last Time,” and actually received no credit for it. If anyone, he should have been the one to receive credit for “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”

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