Robert Plant and Jimmy Page Openly Admit to Stealing Music

Led Zeppelin: The Biggest Rip-Off In Modern Music History?

“I think when Willie Dixon turned on the radio in Chicago twenty years after he wrote his blues, he thought, ‘That’s my song [Whole Lotta Love].’ … When we ripped it off, I said to Jimmy, ‘Hey, that’s not our song.’ And he said, ‘Shut up and keep walking.'”

Robert Plant, as quoted by Barney Hoskyns, “Led Zeppelin IV,” p.42 (Rodale 2006).

Yesterday, a commenter on Digital Music News may have single-handedly shut down a copyright infringement lawsuit over the song ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ by discovering a song with an identical melody written in the 1600s.  But that lawsuit, raised by the estate of the lead singer of Spirit, is dredging some very ugly details surrounding Led Zeppelin’s songwriting process.

According to court paperwork obtained this morning by Digital Music News, both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant have openly admitted to stealing music on multiple occasions, in verified comments.  The litigants in the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ case are using the quotes to demonstrate that Led Zeppelin had a repeated history of content infringement and blatant plagiarism, while lightly masking those plagiarisms to make copyright claims more difficult.

More importantly, the attorneys are questioning both Page and Plant — in 2016 — to confirm that these statements were made.  “Plant was confronted with this quote [regarding Willie Dixon] at his deposition and had to admit that he had no reason to dispute its veracity—and based on his prior admissions, how could he?” lawyers for the litigating estate of Randy California from Spirit wrote.

The Spirit claims against Led Zeppelin now seem ridiculous following the discovery of a nearly identical piece by baroque composer Giovanni Battista Granata, written around 1630.  But prior to that discovery, the admissions by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page would theoretically have helped win the case by demonstrating that ‘Taurus’ was just another victim in a string of plagiarisms.  And the reason is simple: a jury is more easily swayed of a crime if the accused has committed similar crimes in the past (and admitted them).

Speaking of admissions, this bombshell from 1993 was also entered into evidence by the Spirit litigating lawyers.  This is attributed to Jimmy Page in court documents from an interview with Guitar World in December of that year.

“[A]s far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used. I always made sure to come up with some variation. In fact, I think in most cases, you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case– but in most cases. So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. And Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that– which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn’t get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.”

A number of famous Zeppelin tracks have now been called into question, including ‘Dazed and Confused,’ ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ and ‘Baby I’m Gonna Leave You.’  “Note that Page is quite clear that Zeppelin routinely took other people’s songs and used them to create Led Zeppelin’s music,” the court filing this week states.

…from the court filing:

“Page’s attempt to shift blame from himself is not quite fair to Plant as Page repeatedly took entire musical compositions without attribution, in addition to Plant lifting the lyrics and melodies in tandem. This includes Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused which Page took note for note from Jake Holmes’s Dazed and Confused; Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love which was taken from You Need Love by The Small Faces who were covering Willie Dixon (but giving proper credit); and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You of which a nearly identical song by the same name was written by Anne Bredon and sang by Joan Baez (again with proper credit given).

“There is no way any rational reasonable person listens to these songs and can conclude anything but that they were lifted, as Page and Plant admitted. Yet, Page, Plant, and Jones often dishonestly took full credit for themselves and dissembled at length in their depositions on the subject, refusing to take responsibility.”

The complete court filing:


Image by Petras Gagilas, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).

37 Responses

  1. Lif Strand

    I’m sorry, but does anyone really think that Led Zeppelin’s music has existed before they put it out there into the world? Would anyone really get rid of their Zep albums and instead listen to the music that the band supposedly “stole” their songs from?

    No, because source inspiration is just that: Inspiration. Led Zeppelin’s music is their own.

    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      I was just thinking something similar. Most people who love Zeppelin or even enjoy their music have no interest in the original versions; Plant singing over them is different, they are serious variations.

      That said, I understand the law is the law; I respect the legal process. But this is a pretty interesting interview on NPR with Plant that includes this very topic (around 20 minutes or so).

    • PirateZeppelin

      The problem isn’t so much they played other peoples music, just claimed it as their own without giving credit. It doesn’t matter how well known something is, if you use it you credit the creator. If you change the arrangement, give yourself credit for that not the entire song. This thievery comes from a band that won’t hardly let anyone else touch their music, even guitar players on youtube (people get dmca take downs for covers). They are a bunch of hypocrites and although they have been my favorite band for years, I hate them as people. Lying, thieving, greedy assholes. Everyone needs to be pirating LZ music. Don’t give these jerks another dime.

      • Me2

        This is bulls##t. If you have a real problem with these “theiving, greedy a5sholes” then just don’t listen to it, nobody said you had to.

        Suggesting that everyone, presumably including yourself, just pirate it makes you somehow justified because?

  2. Versus

    The “Stairway” case is ludicrous, but all the other cases should all be judged on their own merits, and where the band did violate copyright without attribution or compensation, they should have to pay up.

    It’s very disappointing to me that one of the bands I had most admired had such low ethics. The racial issue just makes it even nastier.

  3. M. Leonard Tyson

    Greedy thieves & loquacious liars are still the scourge of true artistry…the rip-off “artists”/ bizlings who engage in plagiarism knowingly are consciously aware of what they are doing when they do it. That’s what makes it a willful & premeditated act. Therein lies the crime.

  4. Ken

    Taurus? Who’s Taurus? You mean Spirit if you are taking about Randy California

    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      Thanks so much for pointing that out. I was accidentally smoking the Spirit while writing about the Taurus (or maybe it was the other way around).

  5. Rick Shaw

    Whatever. Everyone “borrowed” or stole from other people. There are no real new ideas any more. Get over it.

      • Rick Shaw

        You had better check yourself when you make that claim. The Beatles, in fact, “borrowed” many times.

  6. gBoes

    This is old news – all of it, including the quotes from Page and Plant.

    Had LZ sold 1,000 copies of STH or WLL or D&C, nobody would care one iota where the music and lyrics originated.

    There are specific, complex legal standards tht have to be met for the plaintiff to win judgement. Tossing around quotes from books and magazines doesn’t get it done.

    I’m a lifelong LZ fan. Ive read and heard all the grousing about “plagiarism” for more than 40 years. I was happy to see Willie Dixon get a settlement before he passed away. If Randy Wolfe deserves a settlement, so be it. Doesn’t change my opinion of LZ at all.

  7. jr

    davy graham used a similar progression on “cry me a river” in 1959, the beatles on “a taste of honey” in 1963.

    listen to the song “thoughts” by crow (link below). their song is much closer to spirits song but they aren’t being sued. I think that just proves this is a money grab.

  8. Andrew

    This is no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with music and has listened to Led Zeppelin; it’s been an open secret (pretty wide open) for decades. And I say this as a casual LZ fan; not a defender of them/this, but a devoted listener through high school, for sure.

    But this idea that “everyone rips off other people” and “there are no new ideas,” etc., is both incorrect (come on; widen your listening scope—there are plenty of new ideas, new sounds and new music) and also a crass and lazy way of letting Page & Plant off the hook.

    The idea of doing covers (a band/artist performing a song by a different band/artist) was not new or foreign when Led Zeppelin formed. They had every opportunity, context, protocol, precedent and, yes, moral obligation to credit the original writers of the music they “lifted” (not to mention share out the royalties fairly). The fact that they didn’t is what’s creating this debate today (a bafflingly large amount of years after the fact).

    So, to their defenders: Find a stronger leg to stand on—from the perspective of an artist whose music has been stolen and been part of (even, arguably, the foundation of) a multi-million dollar empire, it’s probably less easy to “get over it.”

    And what if it is a “money grab”? Fair is fair. If someone steals my music and makes a few bucks, fine; maybe I go after him/her, maybe not. But if someone steals my music and makes a fortune? Yeah—I see nothing wrong in insisting that I’m entitled to compensation for what I contributed (involuntarily!) to their earnings. How is that wrong…?

    [And re: the racial issue—yeah, it’s there. Dixon, for example, was black and (esp. relative to Zep’s available legal defenses) broke. Also, the record industry in his era (and Zep’s) (and, you know, today) was notorious for ripping off artists and not supporting their efforts to recoup royalties owed. Add the standard day-to-day level of racial discrimination from that time period and it’s not hard to see that he wouldn’t have had the same easy access as a white musician would to resources that could have protected his IP.]

    • cheri

      Yeah that’s true Andrew fairs fare but would you wait 45 bloody years to sue someone the family couldn’t give a shit about the song it’s all about money money money I rest my case

  9. James Russel

    “and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You of which a nearly identical song by the same name was written by Anne Bredon and sang by Joan Baez (again with proper credit given).” Joan Baez originally had incorrectly credited the song as “traditional”, which LZ therefore credited it as. If these slimeballs were in the right, they wouldn’t have to twist facts into untruths to suit their narrative. I hope they get counter-sued for defamation

  10. Chad

    Page’s comments are hardly incriminating. If you start with a work and modify it so that the original work is no longer recognizable, as Page claims he did, then how is that stealing? That’s just inspiration, and it’s how most music has been created throughout history.

  11. Louis

    I became a Led Zeppelin fan the moment their debut album was released in 1969. Their overall sound, especially on the first four albums, was unlike anything ever recorded before them. That was a time when unique sounding bands came on the scene within months of each other: Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Free, Grand Funk Railroad… to name a few. It was an exciting time waiting to hear the new music coming out every other day.

    Most of those bands used material from previous recording artists, but they gave the songs a new dynamic and quality according to the band’s style. What’s unfortunate about LZ is their arrogance of failing to give credit to the original songwriters. As a songwriter, I feel ashamed they could be so dishonest.

    I will always enjoy listening to Led Zeppelin’s first four albums if only for the sound, but I’m disappointed about their lack of respect for songwriters everywhere.

  12. Andrew

    Chad—have you ever listened to the songs back to back? “No longer recognizable” isn’t even relevant. They’re straight covers, with some tweaks in arrangement, lyrics and production. That’s not “inspiration,” it’s just a different version of someone’s song. Nothing wrong with that, in itself—it’s just asinine to contend that it’s anything else. (Or to not credit the composer of the original work, or to defend it as anything else.)

    James—if you think that’s as deep as anyone bothered to look, either at the time or in subsequent years, you’re not granting anyone involved with much common sense or intelligence.

    I really do find it odd how clear and blatant all this is, yet people still stick up for P&P as though there’s no cause for any of this to even be discussed. “Slimeballs,” even. Is it based in loyalty? Fan devotion? Where does this protective/defensive response come from? I’m seriously baffled.

    • Chad

      @Andrew: It’s not about whether or not Zeppelin’s material satisfies Page’s description or not. It’s the description that matters here since the contention is that those comments are incriminating, not the music itself.

      The concept of taking and original work and modifying it until the original work is no longer recognizable cannot be considered stealing. Others can decide if that’s actually what Zeppelin did or not.

  13. Fred Glick

    A few Led Zeppelin songs consisted of that band’s interpretation of common blues themes and chords that many bands before and since have used as inspiration when creating their own music. But because of Led Zeppelin’s huge success, and the commercial failure of songs like Taurus, lawyers have crawled out of the woodwork wanting to make a quick buck off Led Zeppelin’s success.
    The author, Resnikoff, uses the word “stealing” in his headline, but this inflammatory word wasn’t in the interviews or case documents cited by the the plaintiff in the ongoing Stairway to Heaven lawsuit. That plaintiff is *alleging* systemic plagiarism, but it should be emphasized that this is just an allegation and not a finding by the court.
    Unfortunately, many readers will mistake Resnikoff’s commentary as fact, and may jump to the erroneous conclusion that Led Zeppelin committed some criminal act which is not the case. The allegation of copyright infringement against Led Zeppelin is civil, not criminal, and involves remuneration and attribution if proven, not incarceration. Resnikoff should try to avoid language that serves to mislead or confuse readers who aren’t familiar with the details of the case.

  14. Rick

    I am an older man and saw Zeppelin many times in the 60s and 70s. They were amazing
    Also saw many bluesman perform such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin Wolf.
    All artists from any generation or genre or music are literally inspired by the previous generation when you think about it.
    Decades ago, I had the chance to meet Robert and Jimmy after one of the bands shows in Chicago. Very nice guys
    At a music expo, years later I had the chance to meet Muddy Waters and asked him quickly about Zeppelin, he replied ‘I like them and feel flattered I inspire them’. This is what he said, word for word.

    Yes, the law is the law…but this also goes on the grounds on being a little absurd.

  15. Rick

    Some of you are overanalyzing this too much. They were a band from my generation.
    If you like them, great
    If you don’t like them…then don’t listen to them

  16. Andrew

    The Taurus suit has been in the works for years (and its basis has been worth discussing ever since the songs came out). Nobody’s “crawling out of the woodwork” all of a sudden—as though poor, struggling li’l LZ just became multi-millionaires last year and now all the vultures want a piece of them….?!

    People so far seem bent on splitting these various legal hairs all through these comments, but the facts are clear: When it comes to these blues songs, there was straight-up song thievery happening. Note for note, line for line. Maybe not 100%—but not much less. So, you can stand on the letter of the law and champion Zep as the underdogs who are being unfairly accused, or you can recognize the spirit of the law—still like them as a band—but acknowledge that maybe they owe some people some credit (and/or royalties).

    As for the Taurus thing? Might not be so cut and dried, but the similarity is strong enough that I’d say the case is there to make. That’s subjective, of course, but whatever; so far, the bar hasn’t risen too close to objectivity on this page.

    Theft is theft. Inspiration is inspiration. If you want to defend theft as “inspiration,” at least recognize what you’re doing. (And build a better case. So far, it’s been pretty tepid.)

  17. Angela

    Does anyone really believe that Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin sound like anyone else, they are always unmistakably unique – that song may or may not have had conscious or subconscious influences – it is irrelevant, the song as it stands and as we love it is theirs and they own it – fully – it is not a hash brown of a song. Do we dissect every brush stroke of an artist and say so and so copied so and so – no we accept that there are art periods such as impressionism with artists working in groups influencing each other in their creativity!

  18. Andrew

    Seriously, you people?! How deep is your insistence that there is no basis even for a discussion, here? Okay, fine; artists: If Picasso had painted a piece that looked like someone else’s work, there would have been discussion about it—that’s how art works.* And Picasso, more than likely, would have explained that it was a homage, or a tribute, or his version of the original work. And the original artist’s name would have been front and center in that conversation.

    Because that’s what honest people do. They give someone the benefit of the doubt, wait to hear their side, and then make a decision based on that. Page & Plant have had the benefit of the doubt (along with massive amounts of royalty money, acclaim and a legacy that will make sure their great-great-grandkids will never be hungry) for decades now.

    Reducing this to a “brush stroke critique” is not fair to the original artists. Again, I ask you: Have you listened to the songs in question? And do you know the difference between a cover version, a tribute, an influence and a straight-up uncredited usage…?

    So far, anyone responding to my posts here (or just the article) keeps clinging to this “Hey, everyone has influences, what’s the big deal?” thing—and ignoring the issue: This is NOT a case of “influence” or “inspiration.” It’s a case of USING ALMOST EXACTLY THE SAME MUSIC AND LYRICS and calling it an original work, to avoid giving credit or paying an artist. THAT IS BAD, IMMORAL and CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR.

    I really don’t like using all caps, but it seems like this is some weird little subtle nuance that isn’t being picked up by anyone, and I’m truly baffled as to why. Is it because even allowing that as a possibility is admitting that it might actually be the truth of the matter? Is it so traumatic to contemplate even thinking—just for a mo—that Led Zeppelin might not be paragons of originality and creativity and honesty in business practices…?

    Still perplexed by these responses.

    * See also: thinking

    • Ted Ganns

      Led Zeppelin were original. They pioneered a whole genre.

      Ironically, thousands of bands have tried to emulate Led Zeppelin’s sound.

  19. Dale

    Of course people use others idea etc. But to take entire songs and just rework the tune in a heavy style and then have as a “page / Plant” composition is a display of having NO integrity.
    Surely such “genius” songwriters as Page / Plant are overflowing with their OWN ideas. No blatant STEALING would be in order if such talent was present.
    The band Audience opened for Led Zep in 1969 or so and recorded their song “Maiden’s Cry” that Led Zep stole for the quiet portion of Stairway To Heaven.
    “Taurus” by Spirit + “Maiden’s Cry” by Audience along with Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” = The “Page / Plant” composition “Stairway To Heaven”.
    Musicologists know this.

    There’s TONS of steals by the “mighty” Led Zep.
    “Communication Breakdown” is a ripoff of Eddie Cochran’s “Nervous Breakdown”.
    They most likely stole the title from Roy Orbison’s 1967 tune “Communication Breakdown”

    You see Page had no way of knowing that such a thing as the internet would exist way back when he stole from all these obscure – semi-obscure songs.

    Now the information is readily available and he is exposed for the thief and cereal plagiarist that he IS.

    • Ted Ganns

      Maiden’s Cry? All Along the Watch Tower? These sound nothing like Stairway to Heaven.

      • Dale

        “Maiden’s Cry” it was pointed out in Mojo magazine was another of Page’s ” inspirations i.e. steals for “Stairway”.
        It’s very similar,it’s mentioned many times as a steal.
        A quick search
        You can view more of their known ripoffs,ugh sorry inspirations for Stairway there too.

        All Along The Watchtower, YES! also mentions that Jimmy Page’s guitar solo in “Stairway to Heaven” bears some resemblance to Jimi Hendrix’s guitar solo in “All Along the Watchtower.” rightly points out, however, that these are common patterns that have been worked and reworked in many songs.

        Given Page’s unsavory reputation as a plagiarist I’d go with more the lines he stole it as well.

    • Jeff

      Actually the Internet has been around since 1963. The world wide Web started in 1991.


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