Sunday, October 19, 2014

Be Careful Who You Steal Song Ideas From

Led Zeppelin image
All songwriters are influenced by those who came before them. It's difficult not to borrow something from a song or artist you love and include it in your work, but when that borrowed piece becomes too blatant, then you're opening yourself up to a lawsuit, even 40 years down the line.

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.


Rand said...

I'll repeat what I wrote earlier:

As much as I still love the mighty Zeppelin, if you actually listen to the similarities (not just for Stairway, etc.) it's quite obvious there's been some 'borrowing', to use the most polite term. Being influenced is one thing and using without credit is another.

Anonymous said...

The Stairway case should be thrown out of court. A minor chord with a descending bass -- About as common as a blues progression.

Cheero DeVito said...

Isn't the vocal melody that makes a song original? ...and there's no melody in the Taurus version. Nobody owns a CHORD progression.

Although it's similar, Zep could've gave 'em credit, Like the Stones did with Anybody seen my baby, a copy of KD Lang's Constant Craving. IMO It's about the vocal melody in the chorus.

My 2 cents

andabeat said...

That pretty much would be the end of popular music if people can copyright a chord progression.


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