It’s for that reason that lawyers and music industry experts are divided as to whether Del Rey owes Radiohead anything. Some point to the fact that “subconscious copying,” or copying a song not out of intentional plagiarism but because it’s loosely in one’s memory, can be enough to establish infringement. Others say the popularity of the chord progression should be enough to clear Del Rey of the charge, especially if it can be traced back to before “Creep” was published.

The fact of the matter is that music law has never been able to establish a clear line between what is original and what is not. Copyright suits pop up all the time with entirely different results: Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had to pay $7.3 million for writing a song with the same “vibe” as a Marvin Gaye track a few years ago, but Led Zeppelin escaped unscathed from accusations that it stole the opening of “Stairway to Heaven” from an uncannily similar Spirit song. Ed Sheeran’s song “Shape of You,” one of the most-streamed tracks of 2017, was forced to give credit (and therefore royalties) to TLC for their much earlier song “No Scrubs.” Hip-hop and rap are eternally riddled with claims of creative theft. The entire genre of jazz is essentially a study in plagiarism, both subtle and overtEt cetera.

That pop music tends to overuse the same infamous four-chord progression doesn’t help things, either. To assert that any song is entirely original would be to say it stands apart from thousands of years of musical history—all the progressions and motifs and sounds that have made up the canon before it. And so the question can never be whether a song has copied music that came before. It’s just a question of how badly.

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