Take the case of Led Zeppelin's iconic "Stairway To Heaven," for instance. In 1967 Zep opened up for the band Spirit, who was out on the road in promotion of their first album (the self-titled Spirit) and playing the song "Taurus" every night. If you listen to both songs, you'll find that there's a lot of similarities in the chord changes and feel, which has caused the family of Spirit guitarist/songwriter Randy California to file a plagiarism suit against Led Zep.
It appears that the first round in the court battle has gone against Led Zep, as a judge has ruled that the trial can take place in the United States District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania. Attorneys for the band had argued that since no one from the band resided in that area, there was no basis for the trial to be held there, but the judge struck the motion to change venues down.
Led Zeppelin has been down this path before, losing a lawsuit to songwriter Willie Dixon for changing his "You Need Love" into "Whole Lotta Love." There's also a case to be made that "Dazed and Confused," "How Many More Times," "The Lemon Song," "Bring It On Home," and a few more were not as original as the world thought when they were first heard on Zep albums.
We still don't know how the lawsuit will turn out, but the moral of the story seems to be that if you're making a lot of money on a song that sounds a lot like another, be prepared to share some of the cash and the credit lest you find yourself in a courtroom somewhere.
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