Although many bands from the 1960s and 1970s used elements from other artists, Led Zeppelin rises to a reputation of taking other songs, modifying them slightly, or not at all, and using them. They’ve done it with “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”, a song from Anne Bredon, and “Whole Lotta Love”, which Plant quotes lyrics from a song written by Willie Dixon that he eventually sued for. And then, “Stairway to Heaven” came into the spotlight.
Back in 2016, Led Zeppelin went to trial for allegedly taking the finger-picking opening of “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirit’s instrumental song “Taurus”. The lawyer for the guitarist of Spirit, Randy Craig Wolfe, had gotten expert testimony of the professor of music at University of Vermont who said that the songs feature the same chords on the same measures with the same descending bass line. Nevertheless, at the end of the trial in July 2016, the jury determined Led Zeppelin was not guilty in plagiarizing the chords in “Stairway to Heaven”.
Now, two years later, a circuit court of San Francisco has ordered a retrial, on the basis that the judge of the first trial provided fallacious jury instructions that misled the jury about the copyright law related to the lawsuit. Throughout the trial back in 2016, the U.S. District judge misinformed the jury about the copyright law, such as that the law did not protect chromatic scales, which was one of the points an expert testimony was about. The jurors were also not allowed to listen to the actual production of the songs, just the sheet music, which a copyright lawyer says prevented the jury from fairly comparing the songs.
It is unknown if any of the band members will show up at the next trial, which happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin. So instead of celebrating the band’s legacy with a reunion tour (that may never happen anyways), the band members are dealing with yet another lawsuit against their music. Some say this might taint the legacy of Led Zeppelin, but they already don’t have a good track record regarding plagiarism. How much more can one more song hurt the legendary band? And even though the members took a lot of, what we can call “influence” from other bands, there is no denying the creativity and genius of the band that has already pervaded and influenced bands from Heart to Foo Fighters to Greta Van Fleet.