Last week, a US federal judge allowed a major copyright infringement lawsuit to proceed against Led Zeppelin, specifically over allegations that the group stole their seminal classic, ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ That lawsuit was filed by the estate of Randy California, whose 60s-era band, Spirit, claims that Zeppelin ripped off the critical guitar riff from their song, ‘Taurus.’
A victory by Spirit would potentially place Zeppelin on the hook for tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties, depending on the decision of a now-assembled jury.
The case has caused a stir in the music industry, with many people questioning whether or not the alleged riff is really original and copyrightable. Some have pointed to other songs, both old and new, that have similar riffs or chord progressions.
One of the most interesting examples was uncovered by DMN’s Noah Itman, who found a track from 60s folk guitarist Davey Graham from 1959, with uncanny similarity to the core ‘Stairway to Heaven’ song. This discovery caused many to question whether Spirit’s claim had any merit.
But the most compelling evidence against Spirit’s claim came from a DMN commenter named Brian Dengler, who pointed to a baroque composition for strings written in the 17th century that sounds exactly like Zeppelin’s hit track. The composition, called ‘Sonata di Chittarra, e Violino, con il suo Basso Continuo,’ was written by Giovanni Battista Granata and features a melody that emerges around the 0:35 mark that is eerily similar to the opening riff of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’
All of this evidence led many to conclude that ‘Stairway to Heaven’ is actually in the public domain, and that Spirit’s claim is without merit.
However, the case is still ongoing, and it remains to be seen whether the jury will agree with this interpretation of the evidence. If they do, it could have major implications for the music industry as a whole.
One of the key questions raised by this case is whether or not a chord progression or riff can be copyrighted. While it is clear that an entire song can be copyrighted, it is less clear whether individual elements of a song, such as a chord progression or riff, can be protected.
This is not the first time that this issue has been raised. In fact, there have been numerous cases over the years where musicians have been accused of stealing chord progressions or riffs from other songs. Some of these cases have been successful, while others have failed.
Ultimately, the outcome of this case will depend on the interpretation of copyright law by the jury. If they decide that the alleged riff is not original and therefore not copyrightable, it could set a precedent for future cases involving similar claims.
Regardless of the outcome, this case has already had a major impact on the music industry. It has raised important questions about the nature of copyright law and the ability of musicians to protect their work. And it has reminded us that even the most beloved and iconic songs can be subject to legal challenges and disputes.