The similarities between ‘Get Free’ and ‘Creep’ are noticeable – but what line do we draw between inspiration and copying?Thomas Hawk:Flickr

Conflict has recently arisen in the music world between melancholic pop-sensation Lana Del Rey, and the indie-rock-turned-electronic Radiohead, over claims that Del Rey’s recent release ‘Get Free’ borrows too heavily from the band’s beloved, angst-fuelled classic ‘Creep’.  So where do the allegations stem from? Radiohead have claimed that Del Rey has been greatly influenced by their hit and, according to Del Rey, they have demanded to be reimbursed 100% publishing profit.

With a little musical examination, we may see that the opening chord progression of ‘Get Free’ follows the same sequence of that heard in ‘Creep’: I-III-IV-VI. Moreover, by just listening to the two songs, melodic overlap can be identified in the verses – you can see where Radiohead’s outrage has arisen from. There is undeniable musical similarity between the two. 

Yet, on closer consideration, the enormity of this claim seems to be one that has been overstated. Yes – the two have musical overlap – but, looking closely at ‘Get Free’, we can see that the ‘borrowing’ occurs only in the verses of the song. Whilst the emblematic G-B-C-Cm chord sequence permeates through Radiohead’s track, an entirely different progression is adopted by Del Rey as the song advances to its chorus, and the melodic similarities also come to an end here. As the chorus is traditionally considered the most significant and memorable part of a song, should so much emphasis be placed on Del Rey’s verses?

Also to be taken into consideration is the ‘mood’ of the two pieces. Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ expresses the discontent of an unhappy soul, dislocated in the surrounding world – the song became an anthem for teenage disillusionment and unhappiness. The content of Del Rey’s lyrics further distances the two: her song marks a commitment to move ‘into the blue’ – there is a hope radiating from the music entirely lacking in Radiohead’s song. Even a comparison of the tracks’ titles – ‘Get Free’ and ‘Creep’ – indicates the opposing perspectives of the two. As a result, the question of ‘inspiration’ may be reconsidered: the lack of similarity between the works – other than their matching verse structures – problematizes the claim that Del Rey was ‘inspired’ by Radiohead. More probable is the organic development of a chord sequence – an occurrence more than likely in writing music. Was Lana Del Rey perhaps subconsciously influenced by Radiohead’s chord choices, unknowingly remembering the song from past listening? Perhaps. But the claim of ‘inspiration’ is one that may be called into question.

“Can Radiohead really claim ownership over the amalgamation of four chords? Shouldn’t tracks be allowed to exist in their own right, regardless of overlap?”

The case also brings to the foreground the definition of intellectual property. In a world where the production of music is so frequent, the matching of chord sequences in different songs is a game very easy to play. You only have to look to the 2009 YouTube hit ‘The Four Chord Song’ (The Axis of Awesome) to see the number of similarities in different pop hits. As a result, can Radiohead really claim ownership over the amalgamation of four chords? Shouldn’t tracks be allowed to exist in their own right, regardless of overlap? The Oasis classic ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ shamelessly borrows from John Lennon’s introduction to ‘Imagine’, and yet, the two tracks have been permitted stand alone, expressing entirely different musical and lyrical ideas. 

The copyright feud ignited by Radiohead is also not something new to the band. As recently as November 2017, Sam Smith’s ‘Midnight Train’ was accused of nabbing Radiohead’s progression – a claim that came to no fruition. Even more controversially, it must not be forgotten that Radiohead themselves were accused of property theft – The Hollies’ 1974 song ‘The Air That I Breathe’ led to the band themselves being successfully sued for musical mimicking, regarding the very same chord progression.


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To complicate matters further, Radiohead have recently denied pressing any legal charges against the singer, and the ludicrous 100% profit claim. Spokespeople for the band have declared that the decision will be made through private negotiations, removing the involvement of the court and legal action. But all the controversy begs the question: why? ‘Get Free’ is the sixteenth single of Del Rey’s new record, and is not planned to be released as a single, denying it much individual profit away from the album. Are Radiohead attempting to uphold musical dignity and originality? Or simply seeking reimbursement from the hit they suffered themselves following The Hollies’ case?

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