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Beef Of The Week #387: Radiohead v Lana Del Rey

By | Published on Friday 12 January 2018

Lana Del Rey

You don’t need to be a particularly long term reader of CMU to know that we love a good lawsuit. So it was with some glee that we received word at the start of the week that a legal battle was brewing between Radiohead and Lana Del Rey. Sadly, at least for the moment, all may not be as it first seemed.

It was widely reported earlier this week that Lana Del Rey was being sued by Radiohead – not least because she appeared to confirm that this was the case. Radiohead seemingly believe that her song ‘Get Free’, from her recent ‘Lust For Life’ album, is based on their song ‘Creep’. They probably think this because they listened to ‘Get Free’.

News of the dispute was reported by The Sun, and then confirmed on Twitter by Del Rey. “It’s true about the lawsuit”, she said. “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”.

She also then commented on the case at a live show the same night, suggesting that future releases of her album might have ‘Get Free’ taken off. So, now we know.

But then there was a twist, when Radiohead’s music publisher Warner/Chappell issued a statement on the matter.

“As Radiohead’s music publisher, it’s true that we’ve been in discussions since August of last year with Lana Del Rey’s representatives”, said a spokesperson for the company. “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'”.

However, 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'”.

This raises some questions. Why does Lana Del Rey think she’s being sued? And why does she think Radiohead will not rest until they own 100% of her song?

If you go back to the original Sun report, it actually says that Radiohead are “considering” suing her. Not that they actually are. What Lana Del Rey then said was “it’s true about the lawsuit”, not that it’s true she’s being sued. So perhaps she meant it was true Radiohead were considering suing her. Although she did then say that she “will deal with it in court”, so she’s clearly expecting some litigation.

As for the idea that she might be expected to give up 100% of the royalties in ‘Get Free’, that would be a pretty drastic outcome of the dispute, but not unprecedented. There are various past examples of artists having to hand over all of their publishing royalties on a song to someone else because of plagiarism claims, either to avoid a legal battle or at the behest of the courts.

A classic example is The Verve agreeing to hand over all of their royalties from ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. This was the result of a dispute over a sample on the track taken from an Andrew Oldham Orchestra recording of The Rolling Stones’ ‘The Last Time’.

One telling of that story goes that the Stones’ lawyer rang up and said, “It’ll be 50%”.

“Okay, 50% Verve, 50% Stones”, responded The Verve’s lawyer. “That’s a better starting point than we thought”.

“No, no”, came the reply. “50% Mick, 50% Keith”.

How much truth there is in that, I don’t know. But it’s a good story, isn’t it? You should tell it to someone in the pub later. I’m sure they’ll enjoy it too.

The other version is that it was going to be a 50/50 split with the Verve, but when the single started doing very well, Jagger and Richards demanded 100%, and in those dark pre-internet days, the possibility of having to withdraw all physical copies from sale put The Verve and Virgin’s Hut Records over a barrel.

I think the first version will work better in a pub-based situation though, and anyway, this Beef Of The Week is meant to be about Radiohead and Lana Del Rey. I’m not really sure why you let me go off on that tangent.

Oh, here’s a segue back in. Speaking of songwriters having their names added to the credits of other people’s songs post-release, another good example of this is ‘Creep’ by Radiohead.

You may have noticed that in its statement Warner/Chappell did not say “we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favour of Radiohead”. Rather they said that “we’ve requested that this be acknowledged in favour of all writers of ‘Creep'”. That’s because the four members of Radiohead are not the only credited writers of that song.

If Lana Del Rey is forced to give up any portion of ‘Get Free’, it will also be beneficial to songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood. Both were added as co-writers on ‘Creep’ after they complained that the 1992 track borrowed from their 1974 Hollies song ‘The Air That I Breathe’. Perhaps they’ll get double credits on Lana Del Rey’s ditty.

If you thought the verse of ‘Get Free’ sounds a lot like ‘Creep’, try the same test with ‘Creep’ and ‘The Air That I Breathe’. It makes Lana Del Rey’s effort sound like the most original work of futuristic songwriting.

Maybe it should be Hammond and Hazlewood who are asking for credits from Del Rey. Maybe that is an argument that will be made in court, should it get that far. It might depend on which original song it’s thought Del Rey was (possibly subconsciously) influenced by. For Del Rey, surely having to share ‘Get Free’ royalties with two other people would be better than six? Though, ask The Verve, not necessarily.