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I just read about a new pending lawsuit over Stairway to Heaven, and wanted to give my opinion. It's not the first time LZ has been sued, and probably won't be the last. Here's a link to the article at Businessweek.

Note 1: I didn't proofread, edit, or spellcheck this. This is the web, FTLOG. Let the errors go.

Note 2: This is one man's opinion.

There's a detailed story in Businessweek about the latest copyright infringement lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, one of my favorite bands. I've read most of the biographies and sagas about LZ, plus I have all their music and videos. With that level of interest, I've followed the lawsuits. The suits ask interesting questions of us: what is a "basic" sound that simply exists for anyone to create a variation of, what is a song that loosely inspired another, and when is borrowing considered copying (or stealing) under the law? I feel bad for judges and juries who have to sort these things out, because it's an example of human culture being shoved into a rectangular box, and it can't possibly fit. That's probably why most of these lawsuits are settled prior to an official ruling.

These kinds of lawsuits exist in nearly all aspects of life: technology -- hardware and software, books and other writing, cars, etc. I once read that 99% of all cell phones sold in the world yield some of the profits to Microsoft because the company owns so many technology patents. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and countless others, often buy companies not for their products or services, but to acquire the patent portfolio. It's complicated and fascinating.

The latest lawsuit against LZ involves Stairway to Heaven, which sounds a lot like a song called Taurus, by the band Spirit. Does that mean it's copyright infringement? Hard to say. Many people have tried to say LZ's song White Summer (sometimes called Black Mountainside or White Summer / Black Mountain Side) is theft of a Bert Jansch song. To make things more interesting, Jimmy Page started doing the song with The Yardbirds, before LZ was formed.

Jansch is (was) a British folk guitarist and singer who did his own version of the song, which he called Black Waterside. Turns out, Jansch's song is similar to a song called Mustapha, by Davy Graham, which came out a couple of years before Jancsh released his own version. Jansh's song is also similar to Graham's guitar version of She Moved Through the Fair. Some say LZ should credit and pay Jansch and Graham. However, Black Mountainside is a British (or maybe Scottish, I can't remember) folk song dating back hundreds of years. This makes it fair game for anyone to use for inspiration, and is likely the reason LZ hasn't been sued over their version.

Another area of creativity I've enjoyed, and one that intersects with Led Zeppelin, is fantasy novels -- although not for many years. There just isn't enough good fantasy out there to get fired up (with a few notable exceptions). Tolkien is, of course, the Founding Father, and has never been bettered. When I plowed through The Lord of the Rings as a kid, I thought it was the most creative thing anybody had ever produced. I found out it's not nearly as creative as I thought, starting with elves.

Elves existed in popular culture in Celtic and Dark Age Britain, and probably most Celtic areas, at least a thousand years before Tolkien came along. They were thought to exist in a parallel universe, traveling back and forth between their own world and ours through known gateways. The Isle of Avalon in Arthurian mythology is the most famous of these gateways. Myrlin the magician, of Arthurian mythology, could travel freely between both worlds, and he is rendered as Gandalf in LOTR. The elven folklore was so powerful that England's first king, Alfred, is associated with elves. Alfred, btw, was spelled Aelfred at the time, with the A and E combined in the Old English ash character. Today's "alf" could just as easily have been rendered "elf". The name means, literally, "elf councillor". One had to be very important to give advice to the elves, as the people of the time believed, because the race was considered wise and mysterious. In LOTR, Frodo was formally named Elf Friend by the elves. It was a high honor, borrowed by Tolkien wholly from real folklore that existed for thousands of years.

To this day, there is some debate about whether "Alfred" was the name of the king, or his title, or both. The way people thought in the 9th century was so different from our own, we may never know. My opinion is that if a royal family in 9th century Anglo-Saxon / Danish England named a second or third son, as Alfred was, A Councillor to Elves, they would have been viewed as incredibly arrogant. Others probably gave him the title, and it was assumed as his name. This was fairly common at the time -- choosing, or adopting a name chosen by others, after attaining a high office. Midieval kings did this as a matter of routine. This ancient history can be seen today in the way Popes change their name upon attaining the office.

As for Tolkien, his major works were loosely designed to provide a creation myth for Great Britain, so they needed to feel like they originated in the Dark Ages or earlier -- hence the similarities to the folklore and literature of the period.

If you read the Niebelungenlied (sp?) and the Kalevala (sp?) and Arthurian literature and some other Dark Age stories, you quickly discover that Tolkien is not nearly as creative as most people seem to believe. He had some novelties, and was a great writer, and crafted a heavyweight story on things that mostly existed earlier. He plagiarized nothing, yet invented little. His greatness was the story and the writing. Magic rings? Like elves, commonplace for the era, and not invented by Tolkien. Today we see an echo of this ancient history whenever a wedding ring is placed on a finger.

Tolkien was influenced by many sources, and he in turn was a major influence on Robert Plant, the primary lyricist for Led Zeppelin. Many LZ songs contain references to LOTR. And, just like Tolkien's writings, many LZ songs can be traced back to older sources -- other rock songs or earlier blues songs, but that doesn't necessarily mean theft. If it was that easy, Robert Jordan would have been sued by Tolkien's estate for the Wheel of Time series of fantasy novels. Tennyson's estate, if it still existed, would sue both, except that copyrights expire after awhile. The descendants of Beowulf's author would sue everyone. Tolkien was, after all, an Anglo-Saxon (Old English) scholar and considered one of the best translators of Beowulf.

A recent lawsuit was that of Dan Brown over his authorship of The Da Vinci Code. The authors of a non-fiction (although highly speculative) book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail sued Brown because, they said, Brown fictionalized their book. I don't believe Brown denied this, and after reading both of those books, I can say he would have been foolish to deny it -- they're nearly identical at the idea level. Brown won because, as the British court said, an idea can't be copyrighted. The main idea in both books is the Holy Grail, a powerful motif of Arthurian mythology, which greatly influenced Tolkien, who greatly influenced Robert Plant. This why I wrote this long-winded post -- so many parallels, so many connections, so much gray area, and occasionally a court of law has to sort out the meaning of it all and how the law applies. Ridiculous and fascinating. Oh, I also wrote this because I love LZ and Tolkien, and also because I believe law must exist, and because it's a mostly rational concept that deals with irrational human beings, it will never function well.

So, what's the dividing line between an idea and an original work of creativity, protected by copyright laws? LZ will win the new lawsuit if they can demonstrate that the song Taurus had nothing to do with Stairway to Heaven or that Taurus was merely the idea that prompted an original work. The Businessweek article shines a light on this: "Ultimately, the legal test isn’t what experts say. Under U.S. law, the standard a jury or judge would apply is whether the song in question sounds like a copy to an ordinary lay listener." Tolkien's estate will never have to deal with these types of lawsuits because the copyright on Dark Age literature is long expired, and also because the exact authorship of many of the works is impossible to prove, but these are the only reasons.

I've read most of the source material that influenced Tolkien, such as the Arthurian stuff, the Kalevala, the Norse sagas, the Niebelungenleid, Beowulf, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Taleisin, Aneirin, etc. I've also listened to most LZ music, as well as the source material. The parallels are uncanny. If LZ stole Taurus and re-worked it as Stairway to Heaven, then Tolkien stole Gandalf from Old Welsh writers. I don't hold it against Tolkien -- I don't consider him a thief -- and I don't consider LZ a thief over Taurus. The inspiration seems clear, but I think it stops well short of copyright infringement.

I'd give you 10:1 the suit is settled out of court with a small monetary payout and a new credit appearing on future releases of Stairway to Heaven.

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They definitely have a case; Men at Work losing the lawsuit over the Kookaburra song (which was specious at best0 aleady opened that can o' worms.

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I don't think Taurus sounds like Stairway. Maybe there are a few similar notes but to my ear nothing substantial.

The similarities between the 3 versions of Dazed--Holmes, Yardbirds, Zeppelin--are much more obvious.

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Win, lose, or draw, all of these repeated theft allegations have impacted adversely on the name and legacy of Led Zeppelin. I am of two minds on the topic, but the damage done is irreversible at this stage. A case in point being The Simpson's characterization of Jimmy. It's all most unfortunate.

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I agree -- I don't think Taurus sounds like Stairway

It's interesting how (British) elves are typically thought of today as being rather short, odd-looking beings with misshapen ears, etc. This image stands in sharp contrast to the depiction of elves in much of Scandinavian folklore and mythology, where Nordic elves look almost exactly like humans and are often drop-dead gorgeous to boot: Numerous stories of Viking warriors hooking-up with beautiful elf-maidens, etc. Also, Scandinavian elfin mythology dates back at least 2,000 years.

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Win, lose, or draw, all of these repeated theft allegations have impacted adversely on the name and legacy of Led Zeppelin. I am of two minds on the topic, but the damage done is irreversible at this stage. A case in point being The Simpson's characterization of Jimmy. It's all most unfortunate.

I agree -- it's most unfortunate.

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The producers of "Gilligans Island" should also sue Zep over plagiarizing the theme song. lol . The one with the most money wins.

Any lawsuits that were paid by LZ and company over the years amount to a mere drop in the bucket financially.

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Win, lose, or draw, all of these repeated theft allegations have impacted adversely on the name and legacy of Led Zeppelin. I am of two minds on the topic, but the damage done is irreversible at this stage. A case in point being The Simpson's characterization of Jimmy. It's all most unfortunate.

I agree. Their own songs and reworkings of others' songs are so brilliant, it's a shame that they were not more careful with proper credits. Pay the money to use the songs and reap more (untarnished) glory down the road.

I have original vinyl of Jeff Beck's Truth and he credits people right on the back of the sleeve, so obviously some people were managing or at least trying to do the right thing.

But just because Zep magpied some song ideas doesn't mean they took Taurus.

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I posted this on another thread, it is more appropriate here.

The intro is similar but how can you copyright a few bars of a song, a few notes of melody or a chord progression?

What is the minimum amount of a song used that actually constitutes breach of copyright / intellectual property?

If it is only a few notes or chords, then every second band would be liable and taken to court for plagiarism.

Bluesplayers have been "borrowing" of each other for decades. One told me they played "original" blues!?

Personally I think the person involved is clutching at straws.

Your thoughts?

http://ultimateclass...heaven-lawsuit/

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I don't think the beginning is that similar, between the two,except a little bit. I don't think it will hold up that well. Like I said previously, Spirit just seems to be going after future residuals with these box sets coming out.

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I agree. Their own songs and reworkings of others' songs are so brilliant, it's a shame that they were not more careful with proper credits. Pay the money to use the songs and reap more (untarnished) glory down the road.

I have original vinyl of Jeff Beck's Truth and he credits people right on the back of the sleeve, so obviously some people were managing or at least trying to do the right thing.

But just because Zep magpied some song ideas doesn't mean they took Taurus.

Their record company and manager lacked due diligence so they should be equally castigated for the lack of credit given, if anyone knew of the legalities it surely was them and their legal team. No advice is worse than bad advice.

One thing that is often overlooked is the fact that when the British Blues explosion hit Zep and all the others preceding them including the Stones, Beck, Clapton, Hendrix, John Mayall etc, etc. turned "white" audiences on to delta and Chicago blues and certainly a lot of Americans who weren't aware of it for various reasons, too. I for one bought blues albums because of them as did millions of others around the world. I hadn't heard of Spirit until this came out years ago and wasn't aware of Jansch or Gray as well, so it opened up a whole new world of music for me.

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This better be thrown out. Taurus's intro sounds nothing like stairway to heaven, it's a descending phrase. Nonsense man

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I have original vinyl of Jeff Beck's Truth and he credits people right on the back of the sleeve, so obviously some people were managing or at least trying to do the right thing.

On my copy of Truth, Beck admits to stealing the "Ain't Superstitious" riff from Howlin' Wolf, but justifies it by claiming "but he doesn't mind because I asked him". I'm not sure if I'd call that "doing the right thing".

Besides that, the song

borrows significantly from Willie Dixon's song of the same name (
), yet it's credited to Beck/Stewart. Hmmm.

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Their record company and manager lacked due diligence so they should be equally castigated for the lack of credit given, if anyone knew of the legalities it surely was them and their legal team. No advice is worse than bad advice.

One thing that is often overlooked is the fact that when the British Blues explosion hit Zep and all the others preceding them including the Stones, Beck, Clapton, Hendrix, John Mayall etc, etc. turned "white" audiences on to delta and Chicago blues and certainly a lot of Americans who weren't aware of it for various reasons, too. I for one bought blues albums because of them as did millions of others around the world. I hadn't heard of Spirit until this came out years ago and wasn't aware of Jansch or Gray as well, so it opened up a whole new world of music for me.

I agree re. the legal team but the band would need to clue the legal team in since the lawyers didn't necessarily know the blues or folk as well as musicians would, at least at that time. If songs were presented to the lawyers and record company as originals, they wouldn't necessarily have researched the source songs to verify if they really were in the public domain or checked to see if the amount used was small enough to pass scrutiny.

If band members did alert the legal team and the legal team counseled them to not credit, then yes the legal team is at fault, even more than the band.

Edit: another consideration is did they even have a legal team when they made the first album? They had Peter Grant for sure but did he have a regular lawyer he worked with? Or did they use Atlantic's team after being signed?

Edited by ledastray

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On my copy of Truth, Beck admits to stealing the "Ain't Superstitious" riff from Howlin' Wolf, but justifies it by claiming "but he doesn't mind because I asked him". I'm not sure if I'd call that "doing the right thing".

Besides that, the song

borrows significantly from Willie Dixon's song of the same name (
), yet it's credited to Beck/Stewart. Hmmm.
Oh okay, thanks for that correction. I took that word "stealing" as Jeff joking around but that he got permission. So Howlin' Wolf got credit but no money?

But did anyone sue Jeff? If not why not, I wonder.

Edited by ledastray

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I agree re. the legal team but the band would need to clue the legal team in since the lawyers didn't necessarily know the blues or folk as well as musicians would, at least at that time. If songs were presented to the lawyers and record company as originals, they wouldn't necessarily have researched the source songs to verify if they really were in the public domain or checked to see if the amount used was small enough to pass scrutiny.

If band members did alert the legal team and the legal team counseled them to not credit, then yes the legal team is at fault, even more than the band.

Atlantic Records would certainly have known as would many other labels. Ray Charles and other rhythm and blues artists were signed by Atlantic. Some labels even screwed many of their acts over via very bad one sided contracts. They probably just took the risk and hoped they'd get away with it.

Edited by Reggie29

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Taurus and Stairway are not the same song. My guess is that the purpose of a lawsuit is in hopes that they will get a settlement just to make them go away. But I doubt that will happen.

I wish my grandfather were alive. He was a musical copyright lawyer and he would get this b.s. dismissed ASAP.

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This certainly will not hold up in a court as it is a fact that one cannot copyright a chord progression. If this were not so then I am sure the composer of Taurus ( Randy California) would have sued LZ when he was still alive. Ascending or descending....the two songs are not alike and it smells of a cash grab for Mark Andes....

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I think you are all overemphasising, because it's their most known song! They got so many totally original songs, which the general public knows quite well, so many albums sold, so many awards and many award givers knew about Stairway, I'm shure and most fans know this for a long time and it doesn't make that much of a difference, because not just that it's quite a bit different, there are many other guitar sections, that had to be WRITTEN, they are just to great, to call that arranging, then the lyrics, the recorders, bass, keyboards, drums and the vocal melody that changes four times and also has a very short chorus! !

Edited by Matjaz1

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What I don't understand is, Spirit's bassist, Mark Andes, went on to be Heart's bassist who have done many a Zep cover during their shows. Did he sit them out "on principle"? I'd find it risibly ironic if he did play any of the songs from the band he claims to have plagiarized his old one.

Edited by DropDown

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I think you highly misunderstood what I was trying to say.

Edited by DropDown

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