Stairway to copyright infringement and lawsuits

The rock band, ”Led Zeppelin” made themselves a household name in 1971 for their hit song, ”Stairway to Heaven”. In June of 2016 the band, once again, became a household name when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were served with a lawsuit claiming that the song had been copied from another song, Taurus, by a lesser known band called ”Spirit”.

Although the copyright claim may come as a shock to some, it would not be the first time a chart topping song has been faced with copyright infringement claims. In fact a federal jury found that the popular hit 2013 song, ”Blurred lines” sounded very similar to Marvin Gaye’s ”Got to give it up”. Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were ordered to pay 7.4 million dollars (later reduced to 5.3 million).

In January of 2016 another chart topping artist, Sam Smith, had come to an agreement with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (the writers of the 1989 hit song ”I won’t back down”) to change the credits on his own song, ”Stay with me”, after Petty and Lynne filed a private complaint on the matter.

Another similar case (as to that of Sam Smith) occurred with Mark Ronson’s ”Uptown Funk” featuring Bruno Mars. Ronson, alongside his publishers, have acknowledged the Gap band’s 1979 track, ”I don’t believe you want to get up and dance (oops up side your head)” as having influenced ”Uptown Funk”. Ronson accredited the five writers of the Gap Band’s track to the already present six of ”Uptown Funk”.

The Led Zeppelin case was filed two years prior by a trustee named Michael Skidmore on behalf of Spirit’s main songwriter – Randy Wolfe who is also known as Randy California – who passed away in 1997.

Both Page and Plant have denied the claims that there was plagiarism involved as they had never even heard the song ”Taurus” prior to the lawsuit. The case has caused many issues to arise and many are left wondering if it will go in the direction of ”Blurred Lines”.

Matt Pincus, an independent publisher that works with artists such as ”The Weeknd” and ”Desiigner” said the following regarding the case:

”It could be opportunism, because lawyers are smelling blood. But it could also be because we have moved to a real collaboration economy now, where pop records have multiple collaborators in a way that they didn’t have five or six years ago.”

This raises the question, then, if these extra collaborators are simply taking advantage of absent credits or whether copyright infringement has really occurred.








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