Stairway To Hearings
There’s a lawyer who’s sure all that glitters is (in fact) old…. And he’s buying another listen to what could be the longest running track in Led Zeppelin’s entire back catalogue. Namely, the “Stairway To Heaven” copyright saga.
Now well into its third encore in the courts, the rock legends were originally sued in 2016, facing a claim that Stairway used the same chord progression as a little-known track called “Taurus” by the San Francisco band, Spirit. While this sort of thing may seem but trifling coincidence, particularly among musicians specializing in swaggering, 70s-charged iterations of old blues standards, the fact that both bands toured together understandably led one party to suspect the other might not have simply been “influenced” by them, but had, in fact, shamelessly copied them.
Notoriously difficult to prove, cases like this aren’t only a battle for the rightful recognition of an artist’s IP, but also for the reputations of those involved. As much as we’d like to think that legendary tracks like “Stairway” came from Jimmy Page’s own divine inspiration, their provenance is just as likely to have come from somewhere much more earthly: the rehearsal room next door… a half-remembered song their grandma used to sing… the annoyingly catchy whistling of a tour bus driver. Complicated by the fact that musicians themselves may be unaware of where their ideas have come from (well, it was the 70s after all), lawyers on both sides often need to dig deep into the past in order to sufficiently prove the origins of a musical phrase or sequence.
Originally ruled not to have been partly stolen, Led Zeppelin were legally recognized as the rightful authors of “Stairway,” only for that judgement to be appealed and overturned. Zeppelin’s counter-appeal eventually resulted in the first judgement being reinstated. But as we speak, motions are now in order to counter-appeal the counter-appeal. Which if nothing else proves the enduring power of the song — and the sheer tenacity of IP lawyers.