Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are at the heart of the music industry as we now know it. At least, that’s how beloved adage goes. As such, the life of musicians tends to be quite lively, with plenty of drama, backstabbing, rivalry, splashy divorce settlements, and devastating court cases involving record industry titans.
Many of the goings-on feel Shakespearean in scope, with plot twists and turns, and crazy characters galore. It’s a pretty dramatic business and has offered inspiration for countless films and wonderful pieces of literature. The following are some of the craziest and most influential court cases in music history.
Metallica vs. The Little Engine that Could – aka, Napster
Perhaps the biggest court case of all time is when the band Metallica decided to take on the revolutionary and innovative – but relatively small entity – Napster. Metallica discovered that Napster had been sharing their music via peer to peer services, and sought ten million dollars in damages as a result. The motion led to their songs being taken off the site, and eventually led to the shuttering of Napster. It also led to fans burning the band’s records and caused them to be the most hated musical entity of all time. Nonetheless, the case proved groundbreaking when it comes to how we currently digitally get a hold of our favorite music and has also forced other major artists and record companies to fight against illegal downloading, forever changing the landscape of the business.
The Country Crooner in a Violent Car Accident
Beloved country music artist Kylie Rae Harris died tragically last year in a car crash whose legal manifestations we are still waiting to see unfold. She was involved in a car accident that not only caused her to lose her life but also led to the death of another sixteen-year-old. Apparently, the singer’s alcohol limit was three times the legal limit, and she was driving at a lethal speed of ninety-five miles per hour. The case has yet to be settled in court, but it has already caused a huge tidal wave within the industry of how to handle such matters.
Tipper Gore Hates Your Music
In the late 1980s and early 90s, the media and politicians alike went on a rampage against most music styles, specifically rap and heavy metal, with the idea that it somehow plants evil ideas in the heads of the children. No one else was more vocal about this in government than Tipper Gore, who took on bands like Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, and so on. In fact, the concern was so high that Gore helped spearhead the formation of the Parental Music Resource Center, which led to the proliferation of parental advisory stickers on the covers of music albums if the uncouth language was featured on any song. So, the next time you pick up an old CD or a new vinyl record and see that sticker, remember that Tipper Gore’s legal crusade led to this monumental shift.
Parents Against Ozzy Osbourne
Long before the nightmare of Columbine, concerned parents have blamed musicians for instigating acts of violence amongst impressionable teenagers, from mass shootings to even suicide. The latter formed the basis of a case against Ozzy Osbourne when the McCollum family decided to take on the artist in 1984 for the death of their son, who killed himself. They felt that while their son turned the gun against himself, they thought that part of the reason why was due to an Osbourne track by the name of Suicide Solution.
They took the artist to court, and after years of an intense legal battle, the case was eventually dismissed. But not before it engendered enough criticism against artists exploring violent imagery in their music, and setting the stage for arguments about the limits of freedom of speech that would come to dominate the culture wars of the 1990s.
Vanilla Ice vs. Queen and David Bowie
One of the most famous one-hit wonders of all time, Vanilla Ice, came under fire for the sampling of Under Pressure for his song Ice Ice Baby – which he claimed was entirely different. This hilarious blip in music history, which entailed a fairly overconfident dancer and rapper denying time and again despite all the evidence that his song ripped off the famed Queen and David Boie collaboration led to a court case that would inevitably change the ways in which artists could sample other musician’s works and thereby receive royalties.
Some of these cases are heartbreaking, some are rather funny, but mostly, they all changed the way we create, distribute, and consume the music we love. The legal battles have transformed some aspects of our lived experience of music, and it’s always fascinating to go back and rediscover the cases.