Led Zeppelin won their well- publicized court case this week over the origins of their massive hit “Stairway to Heaven.” The estate of the Randy Wolfe, the lead singer and songwriter for the band Spirit brought the copyright infringement suit, claiming Robert Plant and Jimmy Page stole the opening riff from a Spirit song called “Taurus.” I’m not sure how many of the jurors made out during a slow dance to “Stairway” and to what extent that influenced their verdict, but for now – at least pending appeal – it’s a win for Led Zeppelin.
The Salon post is an interesting take. The author – Scott Timberg -- notes that Page and Plant had a bit of a reputation for “borrowing” other people’s music. But on balance, Timberg points out that the verdict is good for the creative process. The simple truth is that there are only so many notes and so many chords. Here’s a great illustration.
Sometimes cases are more significant for what they might have done then what they did. In this case, a jury essentially concluded that the two songs weren’t similar enough to justify infringement. That’s a big deal for the parties, but probably doesn’t have too much precedential value.
Had the jury gone the other way, however, the damages would have been astronomical. And given the fact that lots of songs use similar chord progressions, that may have incentivized lots of struggling artists and their struggling lawyers. Talk about wealth distribution. In this case the money would have flowed from rock stars to lawyers. I wonder if the groupies would have followed.