Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page remain defendants in a copyright infringement case brought on behalf of the estate of guitarist Randy California. If the case moves forward, the trial is set for May 10, 2016. The California estate alleges that important parts of “Stairway to Heaven” were based on music from the song “Taurus” written and performed by California.
Check out NPR’s recent take on the case as it allows you to hear and decide for yourself whether “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarized “Taurus.” [NPR Story]
Will the case go to trial and result in a ruling which could enlighten songwriters as to the difference between inspiration or appropriation? In the past, Led Zeppelin has faced several lawsuits alleging copyright infringement, but these have settled before a trial could take place. Given that “Stairway to Heaven” earned roughly $562 million through 2008, the stakes in this case are high. This suggests that the outcome likely will be a settlement with a dismissal of the lawsuit. Thus, we, the public, will never learn about some of the internal machinations of the music business.
What adds a bit of sauce to the Led Zeppelin case is that the same judge, who has ruled here that the plaintiff’s case can move to trial, was also the judge in the 2015 case concerning the Marvin Gaye song “Got to Give It Up.” That dispute dealt with whether Parrell Williams and Robin Thicke copied parts of the 1977 Gaye hit in their song “Blurred Lines.” The jury in the Gaye case concluded that “Blurred Lines” did infringe and awarded the Gay family $7.3 million in damages. [Gaye Case] 1/
Needless to say, especially with the increased use of sampling and mashup to write songs, it is difficult for a song writer alleging copyright infringement to make her case.
1/ Gaye decision is on appeal.