Songs on Trial: 10 Landmark Music Copyright Cases

Ahead of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway" showdown, we look back at historic rulings from "Surfin' U.S.A." to "Blurred Lines"

Vanilla Ice vs. Queen and David Bowie (1990)
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Vanilla Ice vs. Queen and David Bowie (1990)

"Ice Ice Baby," by Vanilla Ice (1989) vs. "Under Pressure," by Queen, David Bowie (1981) 

The Case: To anyone with functional eardrums, it's clear that Vanilla Ice's pop-rap crossover hit sampled the bass line to the 1981 Queen/Bowie collaboration "Under Pressure." But Ice famously insisted that the two melodies are distinct because he added a beat between notes. Ice later claimed that this rationale was merely a joke. Representatives for Queen and Bowie weren't laughing and threatened a copyright infringement suit.

The Verdict: The case was settled out of court, costing Ice an undisclosed sum and earning him a not-insignificant amount of public scorn. Bowie and members of Queen all received songwriting credits on the track.

Why It Matters: "Ice Ice Baby" sparked discussion about the punitive actions taken in plagiarism cases. While copyright laws do a fair job of protecting the financial interests of artists, there are fewer measures in place to protect their creative interests. In this instance, Vanilla Ice willfully used a classic hook without permission. Though he paid the price, some argue that isn't enough to make up for the potential credibility lost by Queen and David Bowie, who are now linked to him through a collaboration they had no choice in joining. 

Moreover, Ice's weak defense makes this one of the most hilarious copyright cases of all time. 

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