Artists have the right to be protected from plagiarism

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Sam Smith may be the toast of the British music industry at the moment, but he’s also a little bit poorer.

I’m sure that when you listen to new songs on the radio, you get a sense of deja vu.

Sometimes you’re right and artists have to cough up.

This has now happened to Sam Smith, whose megahit Stay With Me bears a close resemblance to Tom Petty’s 1989 hit I Won’t Back Down.

Although Tom’s hit has a higher tempo, the opening notes of his song are similar to the chorus in Sam’s.

There was no arguing from the Smith camp, who said artists are inspired by so many songs and these things can easily happen.

He has paid royalties to Petty and ELO frontman Jeff Lynne, who wrote the song, and now shares writing credits.

A very high profile case concerned the 1982 Men At Work hit Down Under.

In 2008, an Australian quiz show asked the question: Which children’s song is contained within the hit?

This refers to a section of flute you can hear throughout the song. The answer was a song called Kookaburra, recorded in 1932.

Turns out the rights were owned by a publishing company after the writer had died.

They sued and won.

Other big cases include George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and The Chiffon’s He’s So Fine.

George lost almost $600,000 for that one back in a 1981 ruling.

A very naughty Vanilla Ice thought making slight changes to the bassline of the Queen/David Bowie hit Under Pressure would get him round licensing issues for his 1990 hit Ice Ice Baby.

But he didn’t get away with it and ended up settling out of court with a massive dent in his wallet.

For me, artists’ rights do have to be protected, whether or not the original song was a commercial success.

So if you think you’ve heard that song before, you probably have.

Then again, the charts have been in existence since 1954 and there really are only so many combinations of notes to go round!