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…
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.
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!”
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.