What’s the Difference Between Theft or Inspiration When It Comes to Musical Copyright Lawsuits?

Led Zeppelin is headed to a jury trial starting May 10 to determine if “Stairway to Heaven” is a ripoff of “Taurus,” a 1967 instrument by Spirit, a band that toured with Zeppelin in 1967-68. If the jury finds that the two pieces are similar, the estate of Randy California, the late Spirit guitarist, will get a piece of “Stairway’s” future revenue. How much of a piece? That depends on the jury. (Catch up on the whole thing here.)

What chance does Spirit have of winning? Although this isn’t proof of anything, it’s interesting that someone I know Shazamed both songs and both were identified as “Stairway to Heaven.” (Anyone else want to try that and report back?)

This isn’t the first time Zep has been accused of, er, adapting material from other performers.

This is weird territory. All popular music is built on the music that came before. Where’s the line between “inspiration” and “homage” and “you stole my song, asshole, and I’m gonna sue?” Musical thievery–plagiarism–is a serious charge. Where do we even begin to adjudicate such matters? Huck Magazine takes a look.

From the six-second rule to the ‘common source’ defence, musicians have found all sorts of ways to fight off accusations of thievery. Ahead of Led Zeppelin’s trial for copyright impingement next month, this is a song-by-song illustration of the loopholes that can make or break artists.

When it comes to borrowing from other artists, Led Zeppelin have form: pin-pointing moments of ‘inspiration’ has been a hobby of music geeks since the band’s inception in 1968

Next month, 45 years after the band recorded ‘Stairway to Heaven’, a jury in Los Angeles will decide whether the song constitutes copyright infringement.

Keep reading. Meanwhile, my LA correspondent, Pamela Chellin, will be in the courtroom covering the trial. This is gonna be interesting.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “What’s the Difference Between Theft or Inspiration When It Comes to Musical Copyright Lawsuits?

  • June 23, 2016 at 6:52 am

    difference between journal and music


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