The 5 Most Notorious Legal Cases Involving Musicians

No other words ring more true for the rich and famous than the title of Notorious B.I.G’s song “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” From exes giving tell-all interviews to business partners claiming owed payments, there’s no shortage of issues to deal with when you’re paparazzi bait. For musicians, drama can even come from their own songs, which usually lands them in legal trouble. As we prep for music’s biggest awards night, here’s a look at five times musical artists had to put on the performance of their lives….in a courtroom.

5. Bright Tunes Music v. George Harrison
In 1976, former Beatles member George Harrison was sued over the similarities between his solo hit “My Sweet Lord” and the Ronnie Mack-penned “He’s So Fine.” Harrison was found liable for “subconscious” plagiarism, which was a funny way of saying he copied the song and had to pay up.

4. “Blurred Lines” vs. The Estate of Marvin Gaye
Has anyone had a quicker meteoric-rise-and-epic-fall-from-grace cycle than Robin Thicke? “Blurred Lines” was 2013’s biggest song, but Marvin Gaye’s family accused Thicke and collaborators Pharrell Williams and T.I. of copying Gaye’s hit “Got to Give It Up.” The “Blurred Lines” crew initiated court proceedings to clear their names. They lost in early 2015 and ended up owing millions. Juicy details about the production did come to light though: Like the slacker on every group project, although Thicke spent months claiming he’d co-written the song, he admitted under oath that Williams did all the work and he’d asked for songwriting credit afterward.

3. The “Big Pimpin’” Case
In 2010, Jay Z denounced the lyrics of “Big Pimpin’,” the song that encapsulated his old life of Cristal-fueled yacht parties with bikini-clad models, but someone else had taken issue with it much earlier. In 2007, Osama Fahmy, heir of the composer of “Khosara, Khosara” – sampled in the Jay Z hit – sued Hov and producer Timbaland, claiming they had used it without permission. He also objected to the lyrics under moral rights. In October 2015, the case finally ended when a judge dismissed Fahmy’s copyright and morality claims because American law lets music be as nasty as it wants to be (check out #1).

2. Lil’ Wayne vs. Quincy Jones III
Lil’ Wayne filed a suit against Quincy Jones III in 2012 for using his music in a documentary about Weezy F. Baby himself, ironically. He hated the “scandalous portrayal” of his life (insert side eye here), and was trying to stop its release. Footage of Weezy’s deposition hit the net and it was hilarious. A defiant Wayne responded to questions with sarcasm and even claimed not to recall his prior arrests. Ultimately though, Tunechi lost and had to pony up $2.2 million to someone already worth millions. Go figure.

1. 2 Live Crew’s Obscenity Trial
During rap's ascendency in the late 80's and early 90's many group's lyrics were called into question, but none more zealously than Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew. As mainstream media, music and Middle America began to realize the strength and styaing power of hip hop, a growing tide of social and religious groups (led most notably by Al Gore's wife Tipper Gore) began to swell against rap lyrics. In a post-“Truffle Butter” world, no one would gasp at the content of defunct rap group’s 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be, but in 1990 it became the first album to be declared obscene in court. The case made massive national headlines and group members were even arrested following a performance. A jury justly acquitted them under the First Amendment, ensuring a future of freedom from tame music. As the years passed this landmark case became both a bedrock of artistic freedom and a flashpoint for the limits to which art can freely express itself.

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