Led Zeppelin Face Plagiarism Lawsuit for Stairway to Heaven

Led Zeppelin is in plagiarism trouble yet again, this time for allegedly lifting the famous intro of Stairway to Heaven from an obscure instrumental called Taurus.

Stairway to Heaven

The late Randy California (born Randy Craig Wolfe who wrote Taurus), is being represented by lawyer Francis Malofiy, demanding compensation and songwriting credit for the popular song.

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The authorship of the intro to Stairway to Heaven were questioned after comparisons were made with an instrumental track that predated the song. Now this claim will officially be heard in court, adding to the plagiarism cases that were previously hurled against the band.

Comparing the two songs, I found that only the intro was similar, which may seem like a trivial resemblance. But taking into consideration that the intro is the most popular part of the song, it is easy to understand why this is a big deal. Depending on the outcome of this case, everything we know about one of the most popular guitar riff in rock music may officially change. If the plaintiffs do win, then the most popular "guitar store anthem" would now come with an interesting story! Listen to Taurus below and decide for yourself:

Technically speaking, descending bass lines with minor chord progressions are common in various types of music. Jimmy Page may have simply taken the idea from another song with the same theme and arrived at the same riff as Randy's Taurus. I remember when I was starting out, I learned an open string tune that features a descending bass line that's quite similar to Stairway. However, the circumstances behind the band Spirit and Led Zep makes this plagiarism case more interesting.

Aside from the uncanny similarity of the guitar riff in the intro, the most interesting connection is that Spirit and Led Zeppelin played a number of events together. According to the lawsuit, Led Zeppelin "opened" for Spirit a number of times in 1968, the same year that Spirit released the album that contained the instrumental Taurus. This puts Page in the position where he actually heard the opening riff of Taurus, years before Stairway to Heaven was produced.

Another interesting bit found in the lawsuit is an interview with Randy, shortly before his passing. He is quoted saying, "Well, if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment. It’s an exact… I’d say it was a rip-off. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you ’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe some day their conscience will make them do something about it. I don’t know. There are funny business dealings between record companies, managers, publishers, and artists. But when artists do it to other artists, there’s no excuse for that. I’m mad!

The lawyer knew that Led Zep's plagiarism reputation will help Randy's case, so he listed down 17 songs from the band that are allegedly infringed from other authors. On the flipside, it's not all sunny for the plaintiffs either because this same lawyer was recently rebuked by a judge after his other copyright infringement case against Usher was dismissed.

You can read the entirety of the lawsuit here. The band is yet to make a press release in response to the lawsuit, but Jimmy Page has commented that the charge was "ridiculous". The progress of this case will definitely be an interesting story not just for us guitar players, but for songwriters as well.

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Sounds like Johnny Rivers

Sounds like Johnny Rivers "Summer Rain" to me. Also, Tina Turner's Thunderdome uses this descending pattern.

plagiarism??

I wouldn't have thought you could copyright a chord sequence and anyway 'there is nothing new under the sun'. Most creative endeavors are an amalgamation of ones own experience. I constantly write songs and then discard them because something in the song may remind me, even in a small way of something I have heard-even though my friends can't see the similarity, the fear of plagiarism can be a death knoll to creativity

More than just the chord progression

If you go to 0:43 in the YouTube video above you'll hear more than just the chord progression - it's basically the exact finger picking used in Stairway to Heaven.

Plagiarism

Uninteresting - its pretty much impossible to write anything totally original today given all the music that has come and gone.. Perhaps if those seeking restitution had the machine and fan base behind them that Zep had / has well anyway.. And when was Stairway released again 4 decades hence its simply another industry money grab and I'm not sorry to say...

Led Zeppelin

There is some similarity in one part of the "Spirit" song to the riff that Jimmy played on "Stairway To Heaven", but arguably it is rather a standard descending chord progression. The body of "Stairway to Heaven" stands by itself as unique. If I were the judge, I would throw the case out as being frivolous on the basis that the similarity between the two riffs is mere musical coincidence and does not in fact go to the body of the song. As a musician, I have many times heard riffs that are similar in different songs, but it is usually the uniqueness of the body of the song that stands alone.

Even if Jimmy was arguably influenced, even subconsciously, as to that particular riff, were I Randy California or one of his relatives, I would be honored that a similar riff was used on one of the most successful songs in musical history. However, I do not believe that compensation is order for that similarity.

Stairway

First, if a musician truly believes that he/she the victim of plagiarism, why wait for several decades before filing a claim? It suggests that Randy California was not convinced of the validity of his claim until persuaded otherwise by a hungry lawyer.

Second, the inner moving voices device ("CESH": chromatic embellishment of static harmony) appears in the bridge of Lover Man, in Angel Eyes, Michelle and many other songs written before Randy recorded Taurus). Bach's Bourrée in E minor, which every classical guitar student knows, features an upper diatonic line against a descending bass line (albeit diatonic and not chromatic) and no doubt Jimmy Page could quote that as his inspiration. One can no doubt find other examples in the classical guitar repertoire and in the wider classical repertoire.

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