As I watching the news here in ‘sunny’ England yesterday i was confronted with a picture of a rather serious looking Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and the headline of “Stairway Heaven in copyright trail“. I expect like most people did, I just rolled my eyes and thought “… not again” but then the more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it became.
Before I start, let’s look at a couple of copyright trials in terms of music in recent years. Famously Joe Satriani took Coldplay to court because of the claims he made that their song “Viva La Vida” from 2008 was based on his 2004 track “If I Could Fly”. Here they both are….
I can hear some similarities in the two, but I’m not certain enough to bring about a court action. Now, I love Satch – big love for him and his career but I don’t get this – there are parts of the Satch song I can take over to the other but for me it’s not that obvious… Waaaaaaay back in the 90’s I worked in a music shop in Exeter and Chris Martin was a regular in there as a young 17/18 year old music freak. I remember him having a talent several miles wide and hated it when I dropped Vai and Satriani licks in when there was a shop jam happening. He just didn’t like that style of music and never listened to it… But, that’s incidental. Anyway, it is strongly rumoured that this was settled out of court under the banner of being “dismissed”.
George Harrison was famously found to have subliminally plagiarised “The Chiffons” track “He’s So Fine” for his track “My Sweet Lord”… now, this one I can hear completely. Have a listen to the melodies throughout… I do find it ‘amusing’ that after the case was found against Harrison he went on to buy the publishing company that owned The Chiffons track!
So, Stairway to Heaven. Apparently, this copyright infringement action has been brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin in the 1960s, and claims he should be given a writing credit on the track. Let’s have a listen to them put together (man… I love the internet).
I think everyone can hear the hooks in the intro being similar. But let’s be honest, it’s not exactly an uncommon progression/feeling in either of these songs is there. At what point does a song become solely identifiable from one section of the track, in this case, it would appear to be the intro and maybe a hook in the middle. At what point do we draw the line at what is obviously an inspiration and what is blatantly plagiarism. As I said above, Zep and Spirit shared the the same bill in 1969 and Spirit played Taurus that day. Could it have been the case that Page heard it and it stuck in the back of his head? Probably. Could it be the case that Page/Plant sat down in that cottage in Wales and said “Remember that band, Spirit, we played with them a couple of years back – they did a song called Taurus and it had a couple of great hooks in it, let’s use them in a new song”… Unlikely. I mean, it’s not as if Zep were struggling for hooks or general abilities for songwriting was it?
I’ll think I’ll just leave you with this to think about before I start ranting about lawyers and the pointless pursuit of money, something for nothing and creativity…
Actually, I’m not going to rant but I will say this… If this is decided in favour of Spirit on May 10th, I will just transfer all my future gig earnings to Messers. Gilmour, Vai, Satriani, Mason, Reed, Edge, May, Paisley, Smith, Murray, Bettencourt, Gill…. and everyone else’s who’s licks I’ve picked up over the years and are all bastardised together to make me sound like me. I wonder if I can just set up a direct debit to their accounts, or maybe I should just stop playing. Maybe the fear of litigation will stop is all from playing soon anyway. How I wish I was the person who can claim rights to the 12 bar progression… Imagine that!