Radiohead sue Del Rey over song

American singer Lana Del Rey said she had offered up to 40 per cent of the song's publishing rights to Radiohead to settle the dispute.
American singer Lana Del Rey said she had offered up to 40 per cent of the song's publishing rights to Radiohead to settle the dispute.PHOTO: REUTERS

Lana Del Rey is being sued for her song's similarity to Radiohead hit Creep, which was also in court for similarities to an older song by The Hollies

NEW YORK • Sounds familiar? American singer Lana Del Rey is being sued by Radiohead over her song's similarity to the British rockers' hit Creep.

But was Creep not also said to be similar to a song by British group The Hollies?

It is ironic that, in the quartercentury since its release, Creep has become something of a case study, showing up on lists of sound-alike songs that tend to circulate whenever musicians sue one another for copyright infringement.

After Radiohead released the breakthrough hit in 1992, a pair of songwriters, Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood, noticed that it bore more than a few similarities to a number called The Air That I Breathe that they had composed for The Hollies about two decades earlier, the Washington Post reported.

The duo sued. Radiohead agreed to give them co-writing credits. Fast forward to 2018 and Radiohead are reportedly preparing a legal fight to protect its interests in Creep.

On Sunday, Del Rey confirmed rumours published in a British tabloid that Radiohead were considering suing her for copyright infringement over the song Get Free from her most recent album.

"It's true about the lawsuit," tweeted the 32-year-old.

"Although I know my song wasn't inspired by Creep, Radiohead feel it was and want 100 per cent of the publishing (rights) - I offered up to 40 over the last few months, but they will accept only 100.

"Their lawyers have been relentless, so we will deal with it in court."

It is not clear whether Radiohead's lawyers had filed a suit or were still in talks with her team.

Whatever the case, it does not take a trained musical ear to hear the overlap between Get Free and Creep as well as Creep and The Air That I Breathe.

All three songs are in different keys, but follow an almost identical chord progression, played at about the same tempo.

The thing that makes the similarities among the songs so easy to pinpoint is the last chord in the progression. Called a minor fourth, it gives the tunes a darker feel because it does not technically fit the key of the piece.

In music theory terms, this technique is called modal interchange. In plain terms, it means making a song sound different by playing notes that you are not technically supposed to play.

On Creep, you can hear the minor fourth as singer Thom Yorke delivers the line "your skin makes me cry". On Get Free, it comes when Del Rey sings "to the reveal of my heart".

And on The Air That I Breathe, it comes in the second half of the line "can't think of anything I need".

Countless pop songs have used this technique, although not in exactly the same way that those three do. A similar type of progression was prevalent in doo-wop of the 1950s on songs such as Sixteen Candles by The Crests.

Later, the Beatles made wide use of the minor fourth - Blackbird and I Saw Her Standing There are two examples - as did David Bowie on songs such as Space Oddity.

You also can hear it on more recent fare, such as Green Day's Wake Me Up When September Ends.

So there is nothing copyrightable about the minor fourth in and of itself. But if the dispute between Radiohead and Del Rey does wind up in front of a judge, Get Free could become a case study of its own.

Lawyers whom trade publication Variety spoke to noted that Del Rey had offered 40 per cent to settle the dispute. "I don't think you would (do so) if you believed the claim was frivolous," said Mr James Sammataro, a lawyer at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.

But Del Rey struck a defiant note in speaking to the crowd during her Denver concert over the weekend, reported Rolling Stone.

"Regardless of what happens in court, the sentiment that I wrote in that particular song, which was my statement song for the record, my personal manifesto… Regardless if it gets taken down off of everything... I really am going to strive for (the sentiment she wrote about), even if that song is not on future physical releases of the record."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Radiohead sue Del Rey over song'. Print Edition | Subscribe