Most people assume that being an artist is, as Die Strait put it, just money for nothing and chicks for free. But the truth is that being creative is really difficult, especially with financial and fan pressures added to the mix. This is why sometimes, artists decide to casually “borrow” another’s work rather than put in the hard effort and sometimes hopeless agony that goes into a good piece of art. But no matter how gently its stolen or carefully altered it is, plagiarism is still plagiarism, and the label of ‘rip-off artist’ will follow even the most talented of creatives for the rest of their lives.
Here are 10 infamous allegations of plagiarism in hard rock and heavy metal…
Nu-metallers Flaw steal riffs from a YouTube musician
In 2019, nu-metal holdouts Flaw released their latest album Vol. IV Because of the Brave, featuring the song “Wake Up.” But as MetalSucks reported, the track was quickly called out by YouTuber Douglas Patrick, whose simple nu-metal song idea video had been blatantly plagiarized by the band. This opened up a can of worms, revealing that guitarist Tommy Gibbons had ripped off other YouTubers; Gibbons was later fired from the band. Maybe trying to steal riffs from members of the digital age isn’t such a great idea.
Gene Simmons’ son rips off manga artists for his own manga
In 2010, KISS frontman Gene Simmons’ son Nick released his own manga, Incarnate. But as Geeks of Doom reported, any praise or recognition Nick could receive from his comic was quickly overshadowed by the fact that he’d blatantly copied sequences from Tito Kube’s Bleach. The comic was immediately halted by its publisher, while Simmons released a statement claiming he was “inspired by work I admire.” Sorry, man, but the comparison shots prove this was a little more than “inspiration.”
Rings of Saturn allegedly steal riffs from We Are The End
California deathcore act Rings of Saturn have a tortured history, one part of which is definitely accusations of plagiarism. In 2019, Los Angeles deathcore act We Are The End accused them of stealing demo riffs they’d written, according to The PRP. While We Are The End never published those riffs, video exists of them, which led the band to call out Rings of Saturn guitarist Lucas Mann. Given that RoS were later dropped by their label over “threats” and “baseless demands,” it’s hard to trust Mann on this one.
Was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” stolen from psych-rockers Spirit?
Here’s a rare case of plagiarism that was seen to fruition. As reported by the BBC, in 2014, Led Zeppelin were sued by former tourmates Spirit, who claimed that their song “Taurus” was the basis for the band’s massive hit “Stairway to Heaven.” Zeppelin took on the case and won; a court upheld the original verdict, and the Supreme Court declined to hear it, officially ending the case forever. Even if “Stairway” sounds considerably like “Taurus,” there’s really nowhere else to take this case.
Artist Justin Osbourn steals horror comic art for his album covers
For a hot second there, Justin Osbourn and his company Slasher Design was one of the most sought-after album artists for metal album covers. But as MetalSucks reported in 2013, Osbourn got called out over a record sleeve he did for Aborted’s 2012 album Global Flatline, where sections of the artwork were blatantly copied from comic covers and altered. While Slasher Design has since returned, the plagiarism issue will undoubtedly dog them forever.
Killing Joke call out Nirvana for ripping them off
It’s not far off to imagine that Nirvana are big fans of ‘80s punk act and industrial pioneers Killing Joke. But according to the latter band, the main riff of their song “Eighties” bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Kurt Cobain’s classic grunge ballad “Come As You Are.” As Far Out Magazine points out, Killing Joke chose not to take legal action at the time, but Nirvana’s then-manager Danny Goldberg later admitted the songs have a striking similarity.
Axeslasher’s pizzagram “borrowed” for a Slayer poster
Art plagiarism is definitely rampant in metal – there’s an entire website about it, Sad But True – but few designs seem as coveted among time-strapped artists as the ‘pizzagram’ logo of Denver thrasher Axeslasher. Case in point, poster hub Garageland made a print for a Slayer show at San Franscisco’s The Warfield that didn’t even work hard to alter the cheese drips. Thankfully, everything worked out in the end, but still, a moment where sweet Mother Internet helped out the little guy.
Black Sabbath borrow their main riff from composer Gustav Holst
Could heavy metal’s first true moment be an act of plagiarism? Black Sabbath’s infamous track “Black Sabbath” (from, of course, the album Black Sabbath) was first conceived when bassist Geezer Butler played a section of “Mars, Bringer of War” from English composer Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite. Both Holst and Sabbath used the infamous Devil’s Tritone, a fifth that was rumored to be forbidden by the Vatican. How much of Holst made it into Black Sabbath, we’ll never know, but we can’t say we particularly care.
Doja Cat uses Plini’s music in her MTV EMAs performance without permission
Last November, pop star Doja Cat made metalheads nod in reluctant approval with a heavy live performance of her hit track “Say So” at MTV’s EMAs. One musician who wasn’t laughing was djent guitarist Plini, a section of whose song “Handmade Cities” was incorporated into the performance – without his permission. Thankfully, Kerrang! reports that Doja Cat did the right thing, contacting Plini and both apologizing for the lack of permission and praising his music. Chalk this one up to a failure to communicate.
Obscure ‘80s glam rock act claims they wrote Poison’s greatest hit
Your average metalhead would not be surprised to discover that Poison weren’t he most original band in the ’80s hair wave. But as reported by Loudwire, members of an obscure ‘80s glam rock band named Kid Rocker claimed that Poison not only ripped them off, they ripped off the band’s massive single“Talk Dirty to Me.” While Poison denied the allegations and said they’d fight them, there’s a limited amount of information on how the lawsuit ended. Maybe it came to nothing, maybe a settlement was reached; either way, it doesn’t seem to have scuttled the band much.
Words by Chris Krovatin