10 Advertisements That Shamelessly Rip Off Well-Known Songs


When the advertisement for Dell’s new laptop started airing last week, it came accompanied by a song that was kind of like Broken Bells, only shittier. Unfortunately, this is far from the first time a band has had its music “borrowed” for a commercial — the sound-alike has a long and ignominious history, and since suing for music-related copyright infringement is notoriously difficult, it’s unlikely to stop any time soon. After the jump, we’ve collated some of the more notorious examples from years gone by. Read on and shake your head in disbelief. (We also can’t help but be amused that several of the most shameless examples have been quickly dragged off YouTube by the companies involved on the basis of, yes, copyright infringement. Ha.)

Broken Bells vs. Dell

Right, so let’s start with the most recent case. It wasn’t just us who noticed the suspicious resemblance between the music used in the advertisement above and Broken Bells’ track “The Ghost Inside” — Stereogum blogged about it, among others — and if you have a listen to the original, it’s hard to see this as anything other than a pretty shameless piece of musical naughtiness.

The original:

Tom Waits vs. Audi

Often, musicians are left in a difficult position when companies “request” one of their songs for an advertisement. Say “yes” and you’re accused of being a sell-out and/or left in the position of promoting a product you don’t support; say “no” and the company will just as likely rip off your song anyway. So it went with Tom Waits, who was asked by Audi to use “Innocent When You Dream” for a commercial. He refused, and was thus not remotely impressed when the commercial appeared a year later, accompanied by a song that sounded remarkably like, yes, “Innocent When You Dream.” Waits sued Audi and won; others, sadly, haven’t been so lucky.

The original:

Eminem vs. Audi

Clearly Audi weren’t discouraged by receiving a legal pasting from Waits, however, because they returned to the well a decade later to promote their A6 with a song that sounds very, very like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” This example was particularly egregious as Chrysler had already used “Lose Yourself” to sell its cars. If you’re going to borrow someone’s music, surely you’d at least be bright enough to use a song that hasn’t been used by one of your rivals? No? Oh.

The original:

Grizzly Bear vs. Troy University

Yeah, we’d totally enroll for a “real degree” at such a reputable institution. Their courses probably only take about, oh, I don’t know, maybe… “Two Weeks.” Geddit??

The original:

Spin Doctors vs. Miller

The not-especially-fondly-remembered ’90s band’s greatest contribution to the music industry may well have been their legal victory in 1997 over Phillip Morris. Spin Doctors sued because of a Miller beer advert that lifted “Two Princes,” and won — as the band’s lawyer told the New York Times at the time, “This was not really about money… [It was] about serving notice to the advertising industry that they cannot misappropriate the music and the image of a band without paying a penalty.” Quite.

The original:

Tom Petty vs. BF Goodrich

Sadly, this one isn’t on YouTube, perhaps because it’s so old, or perhaps because of the legal thrashing that BF Goodrich took for lifting Petty’s song “Mary’s New Car” and using it to sell tires. The details of the case showed how such situations often work — the advertising agency involved approached Petty’s management for permission to use the song, and when they were turned down, they made their own version. Unfortunately for them, it was so similar to the original that a judge agreed it was a case of shameless plagiarism and granted an order prohibiting the ad from screening — the case was later settled out of court.

The xx vs. Nokia

Since no one uses Nokia’s phones any more — let alone uses its “smart apps” to resolve “life’s epic dramas” — we can understand that perhaps they just couldn’t afford to license The xx’s “VCR” to use with this rather ridiculous commercial that aired on Indian TV…

The original:

Arcade Fire vs. Microsoft

…But surely there are no such excuses for Microsoft — we can’t imagine that they wouldn’t have been able to shell out for The Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up,” so we can only assume that perhaps the band weren’t especially keen to have a song about the end of childhood and the loss of innocence used to promote Bing and MSN. Bands, eh? They’re so, y’know, artistic and difficult.

The original:

White Stripes vs. Piero

While our Spanish isn’t quite up to the task of translating all the lyrics to this song, we’re guessing that it they go something like “Hey, maybe if we add a drum beat/ And hope The White Stripes don’t watch Spanish TV/ They’ll never know that we lifted the melody for ‘We’re Going to Be Friends’/ ¡And they won’t sue us!”

The original:

Sigur Rós vs. everyone (including, yes, Audi)

And we might as well finish with Sigur Rós, who posted a rather world-weary blog post a couple of years back with a catalogue of advertisements that used distinctly Sigur Rós-esque music. They also posted an interesting example of the sort of correspondence that accompanies requests from ad agencies — which, in an interesting coincidence, concerns a request from our old friends Audi. The pattern is depressingly familiar: agency asks for song, band says no, two months later fans on forum start to point out there’s a new Audi advert with a song that sounds a lot like Sigur Rós. The blog shows that the band are all too aware of the legal pitfalls of sound-alikes — “Change a note here, swap things around a bit there and, hey presto, it’s an original composition” — and, sadly, they also note that “we’re not suggesting anyone’s ripping anyone off here, or has purposely gone out to plagiarise Sigur Rós music, because that might get us sued (which would be ironic).” Wouldn’t it just.