Two years ago, after he won a Grammy, Michael Bolton had this backstage counsel for music critics who have persistently denigrated his success as a blue-eyed soul man. Last week, Bolton announced he would appeal a recent plagiarism judgment against him by a Los Angeles jury, which found that Bolton's 1991 hit "Love Is A Wonderful Thing" stole parts of the Isley Brothers' 1966 recording, also titled "Love Is A Wonderful Thing."
The jury awarded the Isleys 66 percent of the royalties from sales of the Bolton single and 28 percent of royalties from his multi-platinum album "Time, Love & Tenderness." The settlement could reach $15 million. Critics, on the other hand, might simply have suggested a career cease-and-desist order.Several of the Beatles would understand. In the early '70s, John Lennon was accused of plagiarism when the late Morris Levy, one of the shadiest business characters in pop history, claimed that the Beatles 1960 No. 1 hit, "Come Together," was stolen from Chuck Berry's 1956 song, "You Can't Catch Me" (to which Levy owned the copyright; both include the phrase "Here comes old flat-top"). In an out-of-court settlement, Lennon agreed to record three Levy-copyrighted songs that eventually ended up on his "Rock 'n' Roll" album.
In a better-known case, a court in 1976 found George Harrison guilty of "unintentional" plagiarism because of similarities between his 1970 No. 1 hit, "My Sweet Lord," and the Chiffons' 1963 No. 1 hit, "He's So Fine." Harrison was "so fined" in this case to the tune of $587,000. Like Bolton, Harrison insisted he had never heard the song he was accused of plagiarizing, though the Chiffons did open for the Beatles at their first American concert in February 1964 at the Washington Coliseum. Harrison eventually parodied the whole incident in "This Song."
In one of the oddest plagiarism suits in recent years, the Supreme Court recently made it costly to file infringement suits by ruling that losers can't be forced to pay the winning side's legal fees. Former Creedence Clearwater Revival-ist John Fogerty was sued by his former label, Fantasy. Fantasy charged that Fogerty's 1985 solo hit for Warner Bros., "Old Man Down the Road," plagiarized the melody of Creedence's 1970 hit, "Run Through the Jungle," written by...John Fogerty! Fogerty subsequently sold rights to that song to Fantasy. After a two-week trial, a San Francisco jury ruled for Fogerty, but the judge refused to make Fantasy pay his $1 million legal bill. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous March vote, reversed that decision.