This Isn't The First Time Led Zeppelin Has Been Accused Of Ripping Off Someone Else's Song
Guitar god Jimmy Page took the stand on Wednesday, claiming he had never before heard the song Led Zeppelin is accused of plagiarizing for "Stairway To Heaven" until recently. The copyright infringement case has brought members of the bands Led Zeppelin and Spirit to the court room, with detailed reports from the inside that include air drumming from the stand, accusations of photoshopping, and hazy memories being brought into question.
"I knew I had never heard that before," testified Page in a Los Angeles courtroom on the second day of the trial, when asked about the 1968 song "Taurus" by Spirit. Both "Stairway To Heaven" and "Taurus" open with similar acoustic guitar riffs, but Page says he was never aware of Spirit's song until people began pointing out the similarities on the internet. According to the New York Times, lawyers for Led Zeppelin are expected to argue that both songs use "generic musical patterns" that can't be copyrighted.
"It was so unusual I know I would have remembered hearing it," he said, reports the L.A. Times.
The lawsuit against Page and Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant was filed by Michael Skidmore, who is the trustee for the estate of Spirit frontman Randy California. In court, former Spirit members testified how they performed at the same shows as Led Zeppelin in the 1960s and 1970s, and even crossed paths with Page after a show in England. While being questioned by plaintiff attorney Francis Malofiy, Page admitted he owned a copy of the Spirit album that contained the song "Taurus," but did not remember how he acquired it. He said that he had a collection of over 10,000 CDs and LPs combined. (I feel you, Jimmy. I was just at my parents' house last week and wondered how I managed to amass such a large record collection myself.)
Plant is also expected to take the stand, and according to Rolling Stone Page left the stand yesterday declaring: "I think Mr. Plant might be better at answering these questions."
This lawsuit comes a year after a jury decided that Robin Thicke and Pharrell had ripped off Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up" for their hit "Blurred Lines." Gaye's family originally sued for $25 million, but ultimately was awarded $5.3 million. There is certainly a lot of money at stake in the "Stairway To Heaven" trial: it is one of the most played songs in history, and has amassed at least $562 million in royalties, according to Bloomberg. Spirit would be entitled to future royalties, if their suit is successful.
This trial, however, is not the first time Led Zeppelin has been accused of ripping off other artists' work. Covering and adapting songs by American blues musicians was not unusual for bands, especially British ones like Zep, in the 1960s. Page and Plant have been taken to court several times through the years for improper attribution.
The publishing arm of Chess Records—the groundbreaking Chicago record company Cub Koda once called "America's greatest blues label"—sued Zeppelin in 1972 over two songs on Led Zeppelin II: "Bring It On Home" and "The Lemon Song." Both parties settled out of court.
While the majority of "Bring It On Home" was written by Page and Plant, the intro and outro were intentionally lifted from the Sonny Boy Williamson song of the same name (written by Willie Dixon). The song is now credited to Dixon.
"The Lemon Song" was inspired by Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor," which Led Zeppelin frequently played on tour before it morphed into "The Lemon Song." After the settlement, Howlin' Wolf reportedly received a royalty check for $45,123, and he is now given a songwriting credit on the song as Chester Arthur Burnett.
In 1985, Willie Dixon took Led Zeppelin to court over their song "Whole Lotta Love," whose lyrics were adapted from the Muddy Waters song "You Need Love" (written by Dixon). They settled out of court in Dixon's favor, and subsequent releases of the song attribute Dixon. "You only get caught when you're successful," Plant told the magazine Musician in 1990. "That's the game."
In 2010, singer-songwriter Jake Holmes sued Page for not crediting him for the song "Dazed And Confused." Holmes' song became a live staple for The Yardbirds when Page was a member of the band, and was later reworked by Page for Led Zeppelin's first album. While the lyrics of Led Zeppelin's version are different, the melody and structure are still very similar to Holmes' original song. Holmes settled out of court, but the songwriting credit has not changed on Led Zeppelin's version. On the 2012 live album Celebration Day, "Dazed And Confused" is given the additional credit "inspired by Jake Holmes."