Copyright Yawn: Taurus vs. Led Zep
Once more, musical copyright hits the headlines. (see previous blogs, passim). In this instance, it is Led Zeppelin who are facing a second lawsuit from the estate of Randy California – which is such a cool fucking name. In this case, it is for Zep’s most famous song Stairway to Heaven, which the lawsuit alleges was a straight lift of Spirit’s 1970 song Taurus. At the heart of the matter is the opening riff of Stairway, which sort of matches a short guitar passage 30 seconds or so into Taurus. The spice in the stew is that Zep toured with Spirit and, according to the lawsuit, Jimmy Page effectively heard them playing Taurus and rushed off to write a rip-off. The whole thing is such baloney on many levels, and I’ll leave it to Rick Beato explain exactly why.
Now Zep have something of a reputation for musical thievery. On many of their recordings – particularly their early material – it can be shown that Robert Plant was a lazy lyricist who would basically take the lyrics wholesale from this or that blues tune. In several instances, they were forced by courts to give songwriting credits and royalties to artists such as Muddy Waters as a result. Most egregious however, is there absolute wholesale lift of Jake Holmes’ Dazed and Confused, where the title, riff, and chunks of lyrics of the entire first verse were clearly taken from Holmes without credit – a situation that ended with Zep paying an undisclosed settlement to Hughes, and his name added to the songwriting credits.
But this context aside, the Taurus claim is beyond spurious. Literally the only commonality between the two songs is the bass sequence (A – G# – G – F# – F) and the way it sits underneath an A minor chord. The Taurus guitar part even lacks a countermelody, and as it is an instrumental there is no melody or lyric at all.
But we saw in the Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke case (evidenced in the preemptive action of Taylor Swift giving songwriting credits to Right Said fucking Fred!), these are dangerous times for people recording music, and I would not be at all surprised if Zep lose the case, and more dirt is shovelled on the grave of the pop record.