Led Zeppelin, specifically Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, are notorious for “Borrowing” (stealing) riffs, lyrics and even entire songs. Their first album was full of examples. “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” a song that helped to create the acoustic/electric sound of the folk/rock sound from the late 60’s, was originally written by Californian Anne Bredon. Page and Plant claimed it was an original composition and, after years of this deception, Bredon was finally given co-writing credit and half of all royalties.
(The Barbara Muller version of Anne Bredon’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” recorded 3 years before Zeppelin released it.)
Page and Plant also ripped off some American bluesmen during their recording career. When they were caught they agreed to give credit and money to the wronged songwriters.
Now attorneys for the Band Spirit are claiming Page and Plant ripped off the band when they toured together for a brief time in 1969. They claim Zeppelin ripped off the main riff for “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirit’s song “Taurus.” Duh! Everyone who knows music has been aware of that since Stairway was first written.
(Spirit’s song “Taurus.)
I’m waiting for the estate of George Gershwin to file suit. Gershwin’s tune “Summertime” is based on the same descending “A” minor riff. So are many songs that predate Stairway. But the Taurus rip off is blatant and damn near exact. It’s more than just a similar riff. The Terry Reid song “July,” also written and recorded before “Stairway to Heaven” is also very similar.
(“July” from Terry Reid.)
The attorneys are claiming that they didn’t file the suit until now, over 40 years after the Led Zeppelin song was written, because they didn’t have the funds. Now that the Led Zeppelin’s albums are going to be re-released with all kinds of outtakes and bonus tracks, the surviving members of Spirit and the relatives of their deceased lead guitarist and songwriter have brought a copyright infringement suit. There’s fresh money to be had.
Since copyright infringement is not a capital crime, the statute of limitations for any action has long since expired. While they might get it through the preliminary stages, any judge who knows the law will throw it out since the legally mandated deadline to file lawsuits is decades in the past.
Like most lawsuits, I’m sure they are looking for an out-of-court settlement. They are hoping Zeppelin’s attorneys will figure it’s cheaper to throw some money at it rather than go through the hassle of getting it dismissed. If I were Zeppelin’s attorney, I would fight it, win and file a countersuit for filing a frivolous lawsuit. Of course I’m not an attorney nor do I play one on TV.
In the unlikely event Spirit’s attorneys are successful, the floodgates will be open. Will Ry Cooder sue the Rolling Stones for stealing the main riff of “Honky Tonk Woman” (they probably did). Will the estate of Marvin Gaye sue Robin Thicke and Farrell for stealing “Blurred Lines” from a Gaye composition? It sure sounds like they did.
There’s more to this than just the expired statute of limitations. While Stairway was ripped off from Taurus, as I wrote earlier, the main riff of “Stairway to Heaven” is a simple descending “A” minor progression. Did Spirit rip it off from Gershwin? “California Dreamin,” Johnny Rivers “Summer Rain,” “16 Tons” from Merle Travis and many other songs are based on the same basic chord progression. I foresee a very busy court system if they start allowing lawsuits based on riffs. There are 12 notes in the Western music scale. There is going to be some duplication. Given the millions of songs that already exist, make that lots and lots of duplication. Wanna hear my new song, “Dissatisfaction?” It has a really cool intro riff.