Led Zeppelin sued for Copyright Infringement in Stairway to Heaven

stairway led zeppelin

Forty years later, Led Zeppelin is being sued for copyright infringement in their hit Stairway to Heaven.

The estate of a Los Angeles musician Randy California (born Randy Wolfe) who died in 1997,has gone to court to accuse Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of copying one of “Stairway’s” now-famous guitar parts from  Spirit’s earlier work “Taurus.” In an interview before he died, California once noted the similarity between the two passages and that Led Zep, before its members became rock royalty, had been the opening act of an American tour for Spirit.  See here for more details.

This case is reminiscent of the Australian Men at Work case, where a guitar riff was apparently taken from the girl guide song Kukabarra. There, the lead singer eventually committed suicide.

I think that copying elements of a song ad reusing them in a new piece of work should be considered fair use. I am not judging the case though.

2 Responses to Led Zeppelin sued for Copyright Infringement in Stairway to Heaven

  1. Benny says:

    The popular radio station 88FM – perhaps not as popular as it should be – aired the “original” music which is claimed as the “inspiration” for Led Zeppelins piece. I wouldn’t call “stairway to heaven” a rip-off, but even to the un-musical ear such as mine the similarity is immediately evident. On the same program, a couple of other famous Led zeppelin songs were aired alongside he “originals” – notably the piece “dazed and confused”, which is a direct copy – and where credit was not given where credit was due.
    It’s not uncommon for local artists to claim credit for copies of foreign songs, or to credit “music – traditional” where the writer is living, breathing, and not yet sueing. I am led to believe that it is a big problem for Greek artists, where local law recognizes as breach of copyright only “lifting” the song as a whole , word and music, and not separately stealing the tune.

    • Bruce Lilling correctly noted that the statute of limitations should render this issue moot.

      I am inclined to be skeptical of claims of copyright infringement where one creation is influenced by another. This is how culture develops. See my comments on the Naomi Ragen plagiarism cases.

      Similarities and inspirations should be noted by scholars, but not be the basis of lawsuits. Unfortunately, not all judges see it this way.

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