Can You Copyright a Drumbeat?

In light of the many high profile plagiarism cases making headlines in the music business over the last few years (Lana Del Rey, Led Zeppelin, Robin Thicke, Sam Smith, etc.), it felt like the right time to examine the topic of songwriting from where we all sit: the drum throne.

All of the above instances of alleged plagiarism involved similarities in melodies or chord progressions. But what about drum beats…can they by copyrighted?

As a starting point: any musical performance that is recorded in any form already has an automatic copyright in the recording of that performance. In other words, nobody could sample or otherwise exploit your recorded performance without your consent.

So the real question we need to ask: are drumbeats considered songwriting? If they are, then they form part of the musical composition and would be protected under the law just like a chord progression, melody or lyric.

The short answer: unfortunately, no. Drumbeats and drum patterns are not typically considered songwriting. The law makes clear that lyrics, melody, harmony and rhythm can be copyrighted. Most often, lyrics and melody are afforded protection under the law before the other two. This is arguably because the latter two are considered “accompaniment,” while the first two form the backbone of the composition, and remain consistent regardless of who is performing the composition.

This is actually a good thing in many ways. If every drumbeat was considered songwriting, the Bonham ‘Levee’ beat, the Bo Diddly groove, the ‘We Will Rock You’ stomp, even the standard four-on-the-floor pattern would all exist in only one song, and if you emulated any of them in a new song, you could be sued for plagiarism.

So really, the lack of protection affords us all the ability to do more in the studio, without fear of being sued. Singers and guitar players, for example, do not have such a luxury.

However, if you lifted the ‘We Will Rock You’ beat, along with similar hand claps and stomps, and added a vocal melody or phrasing similar to Freddie’s, that as a whole would likely be considered plagiarism. So it seems that a drumbeat and something else needs to be added before the piece will be considered songwriting.

Now, this is not to say that you don’t deserve a cut of songwriting when you write songs with your band. Many bands divide songwriting equally amongst all the members. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, etc. all divide the songwriting copyright equally for each song, even though the law doesn’t recognize the drummer’s contributions in the same manner. It’s a way of recognizing each member’s contributions as a whole to the songs and perhaps general operation of the band. In other words, it’s completely up to you and your band mates how the songwriting is divided for each song, regardless of what the law typically acknowledges.

As always, feel free to email me with questions, as songwriting is the most complex and sometimes confusing aspects of the music biz.

The Lana Del Rey and Radiohead Plagiarism Case: What You Need To Know

Your newsfeeds might be buzzing with the news that Radiohead are suing Lana Del Rey over her song “Get Free,” which they say plagiarizes their 1993 hit “Creep.”

Lana Del Rey tweeted yesterday: “It’s true about the lawsuit. Although I know my song wasn’t inspired by “Creep,” Radiohead feel it was and want 100% of the publishing – I offered up to 40 over the last few months but they will only accept 100. Their lawyers have been relentless, so we will deal with it in court.”

Now, here’s where the plot thickens: what some news outlets are missing is that Radiohead was previously sued for plagiarism. The song they were sued over? “Creep.” The song shares a similar chord progression and melody to the song “The Air That I Breathe,” written by Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood and initially released on Hammond’s 1972 album It Never Rains in Southern California. The song became a major hit for The Hollies in 1974.

You can hear the three songs here:

Lana Del Rey – “Get Free”

Radiohead – “Creep”

The Hollies – “The Air That I Breathe”

Hammond and Hazlewood sued Radiohead for plagiarism and won. Radiohead claimed that the similarities were unintentional and subconscious, but agreed to give a percentage of the songwriting royalties and songwriting credit to Hammond and Hazlewood. According to Hammond, “Radiohead agreed that they had actually taken it … Because they were honest they weren’t sued to the point of saying ‘we want the whole thing’. So we ended up just getting a little piece of it.”

So: Radiohead is suing Lana Del Rey for plagiarism over a song that they actually plagiarized. The irony is strong with this one! This is the kind of case that gets entertainment lawyers (and music fans) very excited.

Plagiarism Cases More Common

Music plagiarism is a hot topic in the music industry these days. From Sam Smith to Bruno Mars to Ed Sheeran, artists seem to be accused of music plagiarism more than ever.

Del Rey is the latest in a string of high-profile artists to be accused of copying. Sheeran settled out of court with a pair of songwriters after similarities were found between his song Photograph and the Matt Cardle song “Amazing,” and also retrospectively added the writers of TLC’s “No Scrubs” to the credits of his enormous hit “Shape of You.” As we examined in my article here, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were added to the credits for Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” in 2014, while in 2015 Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were successfully sued by Marvin Gaye’s estate for $7.4M, after it was found that their “Blurred Lines” plagiarized Gaye’s song “Got to Give It Up.”

What makes the Lana Del Rey and Radiohead case particularly interesting is the fact that both artists have a very impassioned, vocal fan base.

The comment section on the “Get Free” video is full of arguments on either side, and makes for some entertaining reading: “The Radiohead lawsuit brought me here. Similarities aside (and as a Radiohead fan for the past 20+ years), I must say this song is actually pretty good. Never heard of Lana Del Rey before this, but I’m glad I did. Thanks Thom!”; “Radiohead must need the money so they can pay the original writers of their song”; “yes they sound similar, but ask for 100% of this song’s profit? Didn’t Radiohead steal it from the Hollies as well? don’t they feel ashamed?”; “this song is really creepy”; and “this song sounds like Gucci Gang by Lil Pump…Lana a thief.”

Now that we’ve heard from the court of public opinion, what does the law say?

The Legal Test for Plagiarism

What constitutes music plagiarism? The line between inspiration and plagiarism is a fine one, and is the crucial distinction when it comes to music plagiarism.

As poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

The law states that anything that reflects a “minimal spark” of creativity and originality can be copyrightable, including melody, chord progression, rhythm and lyrics. In the event of a trial, the person claiming infringement must prove two things:

1) Access – that the infringer had heard, or could reasonably be presumed to have heard, the original song prior to writing their song; and

2) Substantial Similarity – that the average listener can tell that one song has been copied from the other. The more elements that the two works have in common, the more likely they are substantially similar.

Did Lana Del Rey Plagiarize?

Disproving “access” in 2018 is becoming more and more difficult, as music is ubiquitous and accessibility to any major hit is hard to deny.

So that leaves us with the test of “substantially similarity.”

It doesn’t take a trained musical ear to hear the similarities between “Get Free” and “Creep,” as well as “Creep” and “The Air That I Breathe.” The three songs are in different keys, but they follow an almost identical chord progression, played at approximately the same tempo.

The common thread between the three songs is the final chord in the progressions, which happens to be a minor chord. It gives all three songs a darker feel at the conclusion of the chord progression.

This is called a “minor fourth,” and it creates a hook because it doesn’t technically fit the key of the piece. It stands out and makes the progression memorable.

It is sort of the reverse of what Leonard Cohen famously referred to as: “the minor fall and major lift.”

Countless pop songs have used this technique over the years, including doo-wop hits of the 1950s, the Beatles songs “Blackbird” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” and David Bowie’s breakthrough “Space Oddity.”

In other words, there is nothing copyrightable about the minor fourth in and of itself.

My opinion: the verse melodies in the two songs are very similar, while the instrumentation is different. The choruses are quite different, in both melody and instrumentation.

But the similarities in the verse melody is striking, and in addition to the same chord progression, the phrasing of the vocal is very similar. To me, this warrants some songwriting for Radiohead.

But 100% of the songwriting? That’s just greedy. If Lana Del Rey did in fact offer 40%, I think Radiohead should have taken it, or maybe pushed for 50%, especially in light of their song’s plagiarism history.

The real irony is that Radiohead had all but disowned “Creep” since it’s release, refusing to play it in concert for years at a time and calling fans who requested it “anally retarded.” Their attitude towards the song seems to have changed in recent weeks!

The question remains: if Lana Del Rey is found to have plagiarized “Creep,” does that mean that Hammond and Hazlewood will also get a cut of the songwriting? We must always be mindful of the statute of limitations, but as we saw in the Led Zeppelin trial, this did not stop a case being brought for royalties going forward.

Whatever the case, this dispute promises to have far-reaching effects on the music industry, and a lot of people (myself included) will be watching it closely in the coming months.

 

Second Interview on Turkish National News!!

fullsizerender

Sometimes life is gloriously random. Turkish National News has chosen the Led Zeppelin plagiarism case as one of the top entertainment stories of 2016, and just interviewed me as part of their year-in-review program!! The year-end special will air every 4 hours on December 4th, and be seen by several million viewers. I’m getting quite the following in Istanbul…

Why the Led Zeppelin Plagiarism Verdict Was Right, and What it Means to You

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

The Led Zeppelin plagiarism verdict is in. I’ve been watching with baited breath. Not because the Zeppelin tattoos on my arm might have to be covered with long sleeves the rest of my life if they had lost, but because of the deeper impact the decision would have on the music industry and creativity as a whole.

In my article here, I examined the legal requirements of a successful plagiarism suit, and predicted that Zeppelin would be found not guilty. This prediction turned out to be accurate as the Los Angeles federal jury charged with the task came back with a unanimous verdict: Led Zeppelin did not plagiarize the song “Taurus” by American band Spirit in the composition of their classic “Stairway to Heaven.”

Reactions to the Verdict

The jury’s decision comes after a highly publicized trial which saw heated debate on both sides of the issue, as experts in the music industry and legal profession pontificated on whether copyright law should protect certain elements of song.

“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” Robert Plant and Jimmy Page said in a statement. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”

Plaintiff Michael Skidmore, a trustee of the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California), had a different reaction: “It was all skewed in Led Zeppelin’s favor. All I can say is money talks louder than common sense. We did the right thing. We tried to carry on Randy’s legacy.”

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

Spirit circa 1968

“Communication Breakdown” – Plagiarism Lawsuits On the Rise

The decision comes amid a serious upturn in plagiarism lawsuits in the music industry in recent years, particularly following last year’s verdict in the Robin Thicke “Blurred Lines” trial. In that groundbreaking decision, a Los Angeles jury determined that “Blurred Lines” infringed Marvin Gaye’s 1977 single “Got to Give It Up” and awarded the Gaye estate $7.4 million (later reduced to $5.3 million and currently on appeal).

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

In the last year, plagiarism suits have been brought against Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran among others. In short, there has been a major increase in ambulance chasers in the music business since the Thicke verdict. The outcome of the “Stairway” trial shows that these cases aren’t easy to win, and might in fact slow down the increase in plagiarism suits.

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

“Celebration Day” – Why Did Zeppelin Win?

As I outlined here, a successful plagiarism claim must prove two things: access and substantial similarity.

1) Access

On the matter of access, both Plant and Page testified that they did not remember meeting the members of Spirit or hearing “Taurus”, despite the fact that the Spirit album was found in Page’s (admittedly vast) record collection and the two bands played together on the same bill multiple times.

There was also an amusing anecdote from a Spirit member involving rounds of drinking and snooker with Plant after a Spirit gig in 1970, but Plant testified that he only remembered his car crash on the way home, not hearing or meeting Spirit that night. While the car crash story would seriously undermine the credibility of a witness in most trials, I think it actually endeared Plant to the jury in this one. As such, the issue of access wasn’t as clear cut as I thought it might be.

(Author’s note: singers get away with everything!).

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

2) Substantial Similarity

On the matter of substantial similarity, the jury ruled that the elements of “Taurus” that were original and therefore copyrightable were not substantially similar to “Stairway,” and the parts that were similar were not unique or original.

And therein lies the rub. The elements of “Taurus” that were used in “Stairway” were not unique and original. To quote legendary guitarist Joe Walsh: “The Stairway claim was based on the four chord descending progression at the beginning of the song…Randy California came across [it] and used [it] for the Spirit piece – he didn’t write it. He used it. The Grandfather of these progressions is: C, Am, F, and G. Starting in the early 1950’s, there are probably 500 of these songs, all with those four chords – but each with different melodies and words. THAT should be the criteria for claims…”.

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

To paraphrase Joe Walsh: you can’t copyright a chord progression, but when original lyrics and vocal melodies are added, something changes.

Why Did Zeppelin Win?

Now, are the two songs similar? Without a doubt. But similarity does not equal plagiarism; “sounding alike” doesn’t violate a copyright. There must be many similar elements that combine to create an egregious copying of one song by another.

The major similarity between “Taurus” and “Stairway” is a descending chord progression. Musicologist Alex Ross devoted a chapter of his book Listen to This to the history of what is often called the basso lament – a bass line that descends chromatically (i.e. a half-step at a time) from the tonic note to the dominant.

The basso lament arose in operatic music of the early 17th century, and is incredibly common in Baroque music. The progression became less common in the Romantic period, but returned to fashion in pop music of the twentieth century, particularly in 1960s and 1970s folk and rock. The pattern can be found in everything from Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man” to the Eagles’ “Hotel California” to “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” from “Mary Poppins.

Jimmy Page actually acknowledged the influence of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” on “Stairway” during the trial, noting that “I liked the idea of music going at counterpoint and I used that and similar ideas in my music. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has a descending chromatic line over which there is also an ascending line, so that the music is going in two different directions.”

(Author’s note: I guess my next tattoo will be of Mary Poppins. I’m planning a back piece.)

Led Zeppelin plagiarism This so-called basso lament can be found in thousands of songs around the world, many of which share the same chords as “Taurus” and “Stairway.” Zeppelin’s lawyer was keen to point this out, and successfully so. For me, this was the argument that won the day – that you can’t copyright a chord progression, and a chord progression is what this case really boils down to.

“Good Times, Bad Times” – How This Verdict Affects You and I

The jury came back with the right verdict. As much as my personal biases lead me to root for David in a David vs. Goliath battle (and Page and Plant were surely Goliath in this case), this was the right decision for a number of reasons.

First, it will slow down the ambulance chasing that has been happening in the music industry these last few years. A verdict against Zeppelin in this case could have truly opened the floodgates on these claims. A music industry overrun by lawyers and sharks is not my kind of music industry. Don’t get me wrong, some plagiarism suits are valid and indeed necessary in order to protect creativity. But copyright law is a shield not a sword. When lawyers and litigants smell blood in the water, minor similarities in songs will trigger multi-million dollar lawsuits and the whole industry will be overtaken by men in suits. (I don’t wear a suit, if you’re wondering.)

The second reason that this verdict is the right one is far deeper, and more important in my opinion. The verdict is a good thing for creativity and art. Artists of all kinds, especially songwriters, need to be allowed some measure of borrowing. It’s asking an awful lot of musicians to clear their heads of everything that they’ve heard before when writing a song; to come at it with a clean slate. The tradition in rock, blues, jazz and many other genres is one of borrowing bits and pieces here and there from the giants that have come before you.

The modern-day insistence on clear-cut originality reflects a misunderstanding about the nature of creativity. T. S. Eliot famously noted that “immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” – but it’s the second part of the quote that I love and is often overlooked: “a good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique.” In other words, all inspiration is borrowed from what has come before, but can be turned into something entirely novel. That is the alchemy of art and of songwriting: taking the common metal around us and turning it into gold.

This is the alchemy performed by Bach and Mozart, Shakespeare and Tarantino, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

This verdict reaffirms the creative rights of songwriters to be songwriters. Demanding that our geniuses create art in a vacuum is not only unrealistic, it would in fact kill the creativity that copyright aims to protect. We have little to gain from songwriters writing with apprehension and fear.

Led Zeppelin plagiarism

 

The Song Remains Similar – Led Zeppelin and the Stairway to Heaven Plagiarism Trial

Music plagiarism

What constitutes music plagiarism? The line between inspiration and plagiarism is a fine one, and is the crucial distinction when it comes to music plagiarism. As I examined in my article here on the Robin Thicke vs. Marvin Gaye trial, everyone from Shakespeare to the Beatles to Sam Smith has been accused of stealing ideas from those that came before them.

As poet T.S. Eliot famously wrote: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”

The Plagiarism Claim 

One of my favorite bands of all time, Led Zeppelin, is now under the microscope for apparent music plagiarism in their classic “Stairway to Heaven”. “Stairway” is largely considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time (and apparently the most played rock song in the history of FM radio). The song they’re accused of plagiarizing is a somewhat obscure instrumental called “Taurus” by the American band Spirit, released in 1968. “Stairway” was written in 1970 and released in 1971.

Music plagiarism

Spirit in a field circa 1972

(Legal aside: while the statute of limitations for civil copyright infringement under U.S. law is three years, courts often read that as only restricting back royalties to the previous three years. It does not bar old infringements. Which is why this case can be brought 45 years after the release of the song).

A United States district judge decided in April that, while the four-chord backbone shared by the two songs is a common convention in the music industry, the similarities between the songs were more than just chord structure. A jury will now decide in June whether the “Stairway” opening segment was stolen from “Taurus” and if Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are guilty of music plagiarism and liable for copyright infringement.

(Second legal aside: the claim against bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones was dropped, as he was not credited as a writer of the segment in question).

The timing of this lawsuit could not be more critical: starting in June, Led Zeppelin is preparing to re-release all of their albums in deluxe, re-mastered vinyl and CD editions. Zeppelin IV (which contains “Stairway”) is Zeppelin’s best-selling album.

“How Many More Times” – Previous Plagiarism Claims Against Zeppelin

This is not the first time the band has been sued for music plagiarism. Since the 1970s, Zeppelin has made settlement agreements and granted writing credits to other artists for several Zep songs, including “Whole Lotta Love” (blues legend Willie Dixon), “The Lemon Song” (blues legend Howlin’ Wolf), “Dazed and Confused” (folk singer Jake Holmes), and “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” (folk singer Anne Bredon, whose son asked her in the 1980s why she covered Zeppelin early in her career. Her response: “that’s actually my song”). For a list of the 13 songs that Zeppelin has been accused of music plagiarism in the past, see here.

Music plagiarism

“Communication Breakdown”- How This Ended Up at Trial

In May 2014, Spirit’s bassist Mark Andes brought a music plagiarism action on behalf of Spirit’s guitarist, Randy Wolfe aka Randy California, who drowned in 1997 in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to save his drowning son (his son survived). According to court documents, Mr. Wolfe was interviewed about the similarities between the two songs before he died. He said that he had been friendly with the members of Led Zeppelin, and that if they wanted to take his song, “that’s fine.”

However, lawyers for the Wolfe estate argued that “the tenor of the interview” indicated that Mr. Wolfe “felt cheated by Led Zeppelin and was merely trying to save face and make light of a bad situation.” According to the court documents, Wolfe complained about the similarities between the songs. “I’d say it was a rip-off. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it.”

Music plagiarism

Randy Wolfe aka Randy California, circa 1975.

Lawyers for Zeppelin argued that any similarity between the songs was limited to a chord structure that has existed for centuries, and is too commonplace to be entitled to copyright protection. This argument was trampled under foot. The district judge stated that “while it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure.”

“When the Levee Breaks” – Plagiarism Trials Becoming More Prevalent

The jury trial, set for June of this year, is the second high-profile music plagiarism trial to make headlines in the last two years This is a trend that some industry experts say may open the floodgates to more plagiarism lawsuits.

In 2015, the very same Los Angeles court that will hear the Zeppelin case awarded more than $7.4 million to the family of R&B legend Marvin Gaye after finding that the Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams hit “Blurred Lines” had copied elements of Mr. Gaye’s 1977 song “Got to Give It Up.” The judge later reduced that amount to about $5.3 million. The case is now on appeal.

Music plagiarism

Wolfe’s lawyer has said that he’s seeking a songwriting credit for his client, and is willing to settle for $1 if the songwriting credit is given. The $1 offer would, however, come at a much larger price: Mr. Wolfe’s estate would share in all future songwriting revenues from the song. Any windfall from the judgment would apparently go to the Randy California Project, which supplies musical instruments and lessons to students at low-income schools in California. The windfall has the potential to be massive. As of 2008, “Stairway” had reportedly earned $562 million. It could be the single most profitable song in rock history. Needless to say, there is a lot riding on this jury’s decision.

“Good Times Bad Times” – The Legal Test for Plagiarism

The law states that anything that reflects a “minimal spark” of creativity and originality can be copyrightable, including melody, chord progression, rhythm and lyrics. In the event of a trial, the person claiming music plagiarism must prove two things, Access and Substantial Similarity.

1) Access

Wolfe’s legal team must first prove that Page and Plant had heard, or could reasonably be presumed to have heard, “Taurus” prior to writing “Stairway.”

“Stairway” was recorded between December 1970 and January 1971, and was first performed in March 1971, according to court documents. Before that, Zeppelin and Spirit toured the same venues and played at the same festivals on the same day at least three times between 1968 and 1970.

Music plagiarism

Lawyers for Wolfe also presented an interview that Page gave in 1970: “Spirit do some really nice things on albums. They give a really nice atmosphere when they play, and I always enjoy seeing them.”

But Plant and Page said that “they never toured with, shared a stage with or listened to any of Spirit’s music during these brief encounters,” according to court documents. The members of Spirit recalled things differently, however. They claim to have talked with members of Led Zeppelin backstage and that the bands had performed one after the other at two festivals.

Whatever the case, it’s difficult to deny that Page and Plant had access to the song in question. So the entire music plagiarism trial comes down to whether the similarities between the songs constitutes a “substantial similarity.”

2) Substantial Similarity

Wolfe’s legal team must show that the average listener would be able to tell that “Stairway” has been copied from “Taurus.” The more elements that the two songs have in common, the more likely they are “substantially similar.” In other words, “sounding alike” is not plagiarism; there must be many similar elements that combine to create plagiarism.

It is important to note that the lawsuit only accuses Zeppelin of copying the introduction of “Taurus,” not the entire song. So when we’re talking about “Stairway” being lifted, it’s really only 30 seconds of the Stairway intro we’re talking about.

“Taurus” begins with 45 seconds of orchestral music, lead by ominous strings and a sprinkling of jazz flute. This is followed by 15 seconds of fingerpicked classical guitar, with the bass notes descending chromatically (i.e. a half-step at a time) from A to F. This fingerpicked section repeats itself before the song moves to a different musical part. It’s these 30 seconds that are the subject of the music plagiarism claim.

Music plagiarism

“Stairway” has that same chromatic descent, and a similar feel of spare, slowly paced guitar. The phrasing (i.e. how the guitar is played) of “Stairway” and “Taurus” is similar. However, plenty of songs start in A minor and descend from there (“Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” both do the same). Further, “Stairway” builds and resolves in a way that “Taurus” does not. So what we’re left with is the first several guitar notes on “Stairway” resembling the first several guitar notes in “Taurus”.

Is the above “substantially similar”? The courts have stated that in order to be so, the copying must be egregious enough that it violates the copyright in the other song.

That is not easy to say with confidence here. Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and Queen’s “Under Pressure”? That’s easy. The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ USA” and Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”? Ditto. The Offspring’s “Get a Job” and the Beatles “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”? You bet. Even The Stones’ “Has Anybody Seen My Baby” and KD Lang’s “Constant Craving” is clear.

The comparison between “Taurus” and “Stairway” is not so clear. Starting a song in A minor is not copyrightable, neither is a descending chord pattern.

The fact is, many songs remind you of a song you’ve heard before, and that’s what makes them catchy. CBC Radio examines these similarities daily with their “Distant Cousins” feature, which apparently has listeners sending in dozens of songs a week that sound “substantially similar.”

“Stairway” contains a brief segment that sounds similar to “Taurus,” but for me, it is not egregious and therefore not substantially similar enough to constitute music plagiarism.

Music plagiarism

Spirit in another field, 1972

“Bring it On Home” – Concluding Thoughts

“Taurus” is an interesting song at best; a short instrumental that I might put on while meditating. It’s fine background music. “Stairway” is monolithic. A song that has connected with millions of people around the world. A crowning achievement in rock and roll songwriting. If it’s overplayed, it’s for good reason. If “Taurus” is underplayed and underappreciated, it’s for good reason as well. It’s not an exceptional song. As Zeppelin biographer Mick Wall notes, if Page was influenced by the chords from “Taurus”, “what he did with them was the equivalent of taking the wood from a garden shed and building it into a cathedral.”

Now, as my band mate pointed out, you still have to pay for the wood from the garden shed. Which is where I think Page and Plant should have settled this out of court years ago, for an undisclosed amount. It might not have included songwriting credit, and instead just a dollar amount. It would have avoided all the bad press and lawsuits. But we’re past that point now.

I don’t think the jury should come back with a finding of music plagiarism in this case. Part of me wishes they would, as the underprivileged kids will benefit and Zeppelin can afford it. But that’s not how the law works. The reality: if “Stairway” constitutes music plagiarism, so do half the songs on radio today.

My guess as to what really happened: Page heard the song at some point, maybe it was backstage in the dressing room waiting to go onstage, and it seeped into his subconscious. Then when he was feeling inspired a year or two later, he sat down and it came from his fingers. I don’t think it was intentional, but intent doesn’t matter in a plagiarism case. Only outcome.

For me, the outcome here is not plagiarism, but inspiration.

Music plagiarism