Led Zeppelin Copyright Decision

Author: Jonathan Roman

Posted October 7th, 2020

        The copyright debate over the song Stairway to Heaven had been hanging over Led Zeppelin ever since 2014 over claims that the band had stolen the opening riff from the song Tartarus by the band Spirit. Stairway to Heaven is one of classic rock’s most popular songs. There was a claim that Led Zeppelin's lead singer, Robert Plant, stole part of Spirit’s song in 1970 when he had seen Spirit perform the song at a Birmingham night club. However, the evidence was shaky, as many of the witnesses had poor memory of the meeting. Moreover, there was little correlation or motive that was Plant’s intention when he saw Spirit perform, which did not persuade the jury.  The counter-argument was that both songs shared the same musical pattern, but not the same lyrics. Nevertheless, many common musical patterns have been copied throughout musical history; the prior argument appealed more to the jury than the latter. The jury declared that the songs were not the same enough to be considered a case of plagiarism. In March of this year, the San Francisco Court of Appeals upheld the verdict as the errors in the prosecution claimed did not warrant a re-trial. Although taken to the Supreme Court recently, the court chose not to hear the case. Thus, ending the legal debate and setting the precedent that the cords of a song and the order of them are public domain as cords can only be interchanged so much in a song before it invariably copies another song. 

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