Led Zeppelin recently had to defend their most iconic song in court. It was alleged that the group was not in fact responsible for their career-defining track “Stairway to Heaven.” The details of that lawsuit are fascinating, particularly to those who are compelled by lawsuits involving hit songs. The fact that the jury found that Led Zeppelin did not steal the song is something else to this case that is worth appreciating in greater detail.
And finally, it can even be interesting to compare the results of this recent lawsuit to other examples of lawsuits and hit songs.
Did Led Zeppelin Steal Stairway To Heaven?
At least as far as the jury is concerned, Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven.” More specifically, as the lawsuit alleged, they did not steal the intro to the song. Given that the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” is perhaps the most famous part of a very famous song, this is certainly a case that was watched by music fans with great interest. Had Led Zeppelin lost the case, it stands to reason that the consequences would have been devastating. Most of all, it stands to reason that the decision would have been devastating to the band’s place in rock and roll history.
It took the jury approximately five hours to render their decision, remarkably short period of time for most cases according to various attorneys. The lawsuit claimed that both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page stole the first two minutes of their hit song from a Spirit song entitled “Taurus”. The lawsuit was brought about by the estate of deceased Spirit musician Randy Craig Wolfe. The estate behind Spirit’s instrumental ballad, released four years prior to “Stairway”, wanted both partial songwriting credit and financial compensation.
The lawsuit made some bold claims. Unfortunately for the estate of Randy Craig Wolfe, they were unable to prove any of their claims. In the first place, they were unable to prove that either Robert Plant or Jimmy Page were familiar with the band Spirit. In the second place, the lawsuit also failed to prove substantial similarities between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven.” On the other hand, the defense proved themselves to be more than capable of proving the unique experiences that would lead to the creation of “Stairway.” For example, Plant described in vivid detail the time period in which “Stairway to Heaven” came together. This was one of the many elements of the defense that proved to be greater than any claims made by Wolfe’s estate, which was testimony that will long be cherished by fans of the band.
Led Zeppelin can breathe easy. They are not the only artists to find themselves dealing with a lawsuit along these lines.
Lawsuits Involving Popular Songs
Throughout history, you can seek out and find several different examples of cases that are similar to the one mentioned above:
- Vanilla Ice and Queen: Remember “Ice, Ice, Baby”? The song played a significant role in propelling rapper Vanilla Ice to the top of the charts in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, the success of the song also brought the wrath of Queen’s lawyers. Sampling in hip hop had become a hot topic by that point. It was impossible for Ice to prove that he had not sampled Queen’s “Under Pressure” without permission. He settled out of court.
- Huey Lewis and Ray Parker Jr: Having written his song a year prior, pop superstar Huey Lewis felt that he had common sense on his side, when it came to his contention that Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” was a rip-off of the Lewis track “I Want a New Drug.” Parker also settled out of court.
- Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams and the Children of Marvin Gaye: The Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams song “Blurred Lines” was also drawing considerable controversy, with many alleging that the song promoted rape culture. Further complicating things for Thicke and Williams was the eventual lawsuit that came against them from the children of Marvin Gaye. The lawsuit claimed that “Blurred Lines” borrowed heavily from “Got to Give it Up.” The seven million-dollar judgement against Thicke and Williams was trimmed, and it is currently under appeal.
- VMG Salsoul and Madonna: The Delaware-based company claimed that Madonna took the horn section from “Ooh I Love It (Love Break),” for her song “Vogue.” Eventually, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed the suit.
Music and lawsuits seem to go hand in hand.