When Radiohead sued Lana Del Rey for a song they “copied”

In 2017, Lana Del Rey released her fifth studio album, Lust For Life, which hit number one on the UK and US album charts. The record also expressed Del Rey’s collaborative side with features from Stevie Nicks, Sean Ono Lennon, A$AP Rocky, and The Weeknd. However, shortly after its release, the singer found herself in a copyright dispute, helmed by alternative rockers Radiohead.

The song in question was the album closer ‘Get Free’, which Radiohead suggested bore similarities to their iconic 1992 hit ‘Creep’, taken from their debut album Pablo Honey. In response, Del Rey took to Twitter in January 2018 to write, “It’s true about the lawsuit. Although I know my song wasn’t inspired by ‘Creep’, Radiohead feel it was and want 100% of the publishing – I offered up to 40 over the last few months, but they will only accept 100. Their lawyers have been relentless, so we will deal with it in court.”

However, Radiohead’s publisher Warner Chappell released a statement which read, “It’s true that we’ve been in discussions since August of last year with Lana Del Rey’s representatives. It’s clear that the verses of ‘Get Free’ use musical elements found in the verses of ‘Creep’, and we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favour of all writers of ‘Creep’.” They continued, “To set the record straight, no lawsuit has been issued and Radiohead have not said they ‘will only accept 100%’ of the publishing of ‘Get Free’.”

According to musicologist Dan Bogosian, the melody of ‘Get Free’ is why Del Rey found herself in trouble. He told Variety, “If you wrote a jazz lead sheet and put them in the same key, those sections would be almost identical. And the melody is what most people consider to be the song.” He also stated, “The entire verse is just Lana doing her lyrics over Radiohead’s ‘Creep.’ She holds the same notes as Thom Yorke for the same duration at the same points, and it’s the same relative pitches. He continued, “The guitar part is played to a different rhythm, but if you boiled it to the same key, the actual fingering and notes the guitar is playing would be the same.”

Ironically, Radiohead were successfully sued for similarities between ‘Creep’ and The Hollies’ ‘The Air That I Breathe’ by songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood in the 1990s. When writing the track, guitarist Ed O’Brien realised it bore a striking resemblance. As Jonny Greenwood recalled to Fender Frontline, “Ed O’Brien stopped and said, ‘This is the same chord sequence as that Hollies song. So Thom copied it. It was funny to us in a way, sort of feeding something like that into [it]. It’s a bit of a change.” As Radiohead were honest in their use of the composition, the songwriters agreed only to take “a little piece” of royalties alongside co-writing credits.

Although, it is unlikely that Radiohead ever asked Del Rey for 100% ownership of ‘Get Free’. According to Jeff Peretz, a copyright expert and professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, “That sounds like made-up bullshit. 100 per cent? I can’t imagine a jury would ever say, ‘This song is now owned by Radiohead.’” He continued, “Even if this went to court and there was found to be some sort of an infringement, there’d be a settlement and Radiohead would be added to the copyright.”

Bogosian believes that 60% of ‘Get Free’ is Del Rey’s original work, “I don’t want to see Lana destroyed over something so stupid when she did clearly write other parts of the song.” Luckily for Del Rey, the dispute was eventually dropped. In March 2018, she performed the track during an encore at Lollapalooza Festival in Brazil, saying, “Now that my lawsuit’s over, I guess I can sing that song any time I want, right?”

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