The Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Lawsuit Controversy

Stairway To Heaven Ripp OffNot that I particularly care about the controversy surrounding the Led Zeppelin plagiarism lawsuit, specifically the allegations regarding their super hit ‘Stairway to Heaven’, but after all, I do consider myself an admirer of Led Zeps early work. Therefore, I guess ‘Stairway to Heaven’ would still fall under that category, even though I don’t even necessarily like the song that much compared to for instance the tracks on Led Zeppelin’s first album, all of which are killer tunes!. Anyway, like many others, I’m certainly not oblivious to the ongoing debate around the question: Was Led Zeppelin stealing songs? Specifically, what about ‘Stairway to Heaven’, arguably their most popular tune, which they allegedly got from the band Spirit and their song ‘Taurus’?

Both bands actually toured together in 1969. And for those of you, who are not familiar with ‘Spirit’, you probably have heard the name Randy California before – he played guitar in Spirit and wrote the song ‘Taurus’ which was featured on the band’s eponymous debut album in 1968. California, who since died in 1997, had made comments in the past alluding to his frustration and repeatedly stated that he felt he got ripped off by Jimmy Page and Co. As far as I recall, California never accused Led Zeppelin of any ‘intent’, which will likely be an important factor in all ongoing and future legal proceedings. However, he wasn’t shy of pointing out that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ made Led Zeppelin millions of dollars – and at the very least, he would have expected a ‘Thank you’ or ideally some sort of monetary acknowledgement. Speaking of money; some estimates suggest that the song generated at least $562 million in revenue since its release on ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ in 1971.

Fast forwarding to 2014, Mr. Francis Alexander Malofiy is the attorney in charge of Randy California’s trust, is determined to make things right for his deceased client. He recently stated: “It’s been a long time coming”. The legal action taken by Mr. Malofiy and is firm has a number of objectives: sue Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement, block the release of the planned release of Zeps remastered deluxe version of their original albums and force the band to give writing credit for the song to Randy California.

Initially, Led Zeppelin as well as Warner Music decided not to comment. But that was earlier this year. And things have changed now. The band, the label and lawyers requested the case to be dismissed on the grounds of the fact that no one of the individual defendants has any link to Pennsylvania (the State in which the suit was filed), no one lives there, neither Page, Plant or Jones own any property in that State. However, the judge in charge dismissed the band’s motion. Ergo, the suit will proceed on to the next stage.

It’s a difficult situation. When you listen to ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ you just can’t deny that the strong resemblance (especially the chord progression used in the intro). And the “Led Zeppelin Plagarism List” doesn’t end there. The band had to deal with similar accusations in the past. Here are a few examples where it’s not unreasonable to assume that the band used previous releases by other artists as an inspiration, influence or opportunity to copy when they put together their own material:

1. Babe, I’m gonna leave you ( performed by Joan Baez)
2. Blackwaterside, Bert Jansch (one of Page’s guitar heroes) – Black Mountain Side
3. Dazed and Confused (Jake Holmes)
4. How many more years (Howlin’ Wolf) – How many more times
5. The Hunter (Albert King)
6. Nervous Breakdown (Eddie Cochran) – Communication Breakdown

The infamous list of supposed Led Zeppelin plagiarisms is longer. You find plenty of these and other examples online.

Alright, so what’s your take on the Led Zeppelin Plagiarism allegations? Did Lead Zeppelin steal from other artist? Was there intent? Or did it simply happen? For those of you who play guitar or any instrument – I think we all agree that the music we listen to does influence our own playing more or less, doesn’t it? I agree that listening to some of the examples like the ones listed above, the resemblance is either very strong or in some instances, it’s obviously a cover of an original. Which is clearly nothing uncommon.

So, here is what I think. I believe Led Zeppelin, by own admission, was heavily influenced by a number of traditional blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll interpreters. The used some of the original material and just covered the tune, or put a new spin on it. This is not unique to Led Zeppelin, many bands did that and continue to do that. It’s not for me to say whether or not the plaintiffs have some moral (or even legal) grounds to ask for reparation. However, I believe that Led Zeppelin, because of their tremendous success, is just an easier target to go after in an attempt to make money.

But that’s just me. What do you think about the Led Zeppelin lawsuit? Leave your comments below…

Published date: November 23rd, 2014 by Ulrich Peise

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