A federal court jury in Los Angeles two years ago found Led Zeppelin did not steal the famous riff from the song Taurus by the band Spirit.
But a three-judge panel of the ninth US circuit court of appeals in San Francisco ruled unanimously that the lower court judge provided
erroneous jury instructions that misled jurors about copyright law central to the suit. It sent the case back to the court for another trial.
Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, filed the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 2015.
Jurors returned their verdict for Led Zeppelin after a five-day trial at which the band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified.
The jury found Stairway to Heaven and Taurus were not substantially similar, according to the ninth circuit ruling. But it also said
the US district judge R Gary Klausner failed to advise jurors that while individual elements of a song such as its notes or scale
may not qualify for copyright protection, a combination of those elements may if it is sufficiently original, the ninth circuit
judge Richard Paez said.
Wesley Lewis, an attorney who handles copyright cases at the firm Haynes and Boone, said that was an important copyright
principle that could prompt jurors to think differently about the case.
Klausner also wrongly told jurors that copyright did not protect chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes, the ninth circuit panel found.
This error was not harmless as it undercut testimony by Skidmore’s expert that Led Zeppelin copied a chromatic scale that had been used in an original manner, Paez said.
The panel also found another jury instruction misleading.
Francis Malofiy, an attorney for Skidmore, said in a statement his client faced unfair rulings at the trial court level and looked forward to the challenge of a fair fight.
Today, we are proud that three esteemed jurists from the ninth circuit recognized the battle that we fought and the injustice that we faced, he said.
One of the issues that came up at trial was that jurors could only listen to experts’ renditions of the sheet music for Taurus, not the recorded version of the song as performed by Spirit.
Steven Weinberg, a copyright lawyer who watched the trial, said the sheet music for Taurus wasn’t faithful to the recording, so jurors could not fairly compare the songs.
The ninth circuit in its ruling on Friday said jurors should have been allowed to hear the recording to help establish that Page had access to Taurus, meaning he would have been familiar with it.
Weinberg said a new jury will now get to hear a recording of Taurus.
I believe that ruling alone has the potential of changing the outcome at the next trial because the jury will finally get to compare ‘apples to apples’, Weinberg said.
Led Zeppelin has long had a reputation for taking music and lyrics from lesser known artists. Many times the songs were never credited to the rightful owners.
Consequently, royalties lined the pockets of the millionaire British musicians. Further, their American heroes, often poor and black, never saw a
dime from songs they had written before their heirs ever picked up an instrument.
This is attributed to Jimmy Page in court documents from an interview with Guitar World in December of 1993.
[A]s far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used. I always made sure to come up with some variation. In fact, I think in most cases, you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case– but in most cases. So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. And Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that– which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn’t get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.
A number of famous Zeppelin tracks have now been called into question, including ‘Dazed and Confused,’ ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ and ‘Baby I’m Gonna Leave You.’ Note that Page is quite clear that Zeppelin routinely took other people’s songs and used them to create Led Zeppelin’s music, the court filing this week states.
…from the court filing:
Page’s attempt to shift blame from himself is not quite fair to Plant as Page repeatedly took entire musical compositions without attribution, in addition to Plant lifting the lyrics and melodies in tandem. This includes Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused which Page took note for note from Jake Holmes’s Dazed and Confused; Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love which was taken from You Need Love by The Small Faces who were covering Willie Dixon (but giving proper credit); and Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You of which a nearly identical song by the same name was written by Anne Bredon and sang by Joan Baez (again with proper credit given).
There is no way any rational reasonable person listens to these songs and can conclude anything but that they were lifted, as Page and Plant admitted. Yet, Page, Plant, and Jones often dishonestly took full credit for themselves and dissembled at length in their depositions on the subject, refusing to take responsibility.
"I think when Willie Dixon turned on the radio in Chicago twenty years after he wrote his blues, he thought, ‘That’s my song [Whole Lotta Love].’ … When we ripped it off, I said to Jimmy, ‘Hey, that’s not our song.’ And he said, ‘Shut up and keep walking.'"
Robert Plant, as quoted by Barney Hoskyns, “Led Zeppelin IV,” p.42 (Rodale 2006).
The Stairway To Heaven case is not the first time Jimmy Page and Led Zeppellin have been sued for stealing other people's music. Jimmy Page
threatens to murder people if they don't give him the rights to their songs. That's why so many artists have allowed
Led Zeppellin to steal their work. Page is a sick Satanic OTO occultist who murders children and women. He knows a lot
of really weird satanists who he can send to attack someone like Manson sent his cult members. That's why Page has been
able to build his career on the backs of other musicians.
"Babe I’m Gonna Leave You
This song, more than any other track on Led Zeppelin’s debut album, established their epic sweep. It was written by American folk singer Anne Bredon in the 1950s: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, however, were fans of Joan Baez and knew the track from her 1962 album Joan Baez in Concert, Part 1. (Page has said that he learned the song in the days of sitting in the darkness, playing my six-string behind Marianne Faithfull.) Led Zeppelin credited the song as traditional (and gave arrangement credit to Page); in fairness to them, Baez’s album also mistakenly listed the song as traditional. Bredon was apparently unaware that Led Zeppelin had covered her song: When she found out in the Eighties, she agreed to split the royalties with the band, and is now listed as co-author.
Dazed and Confused
Page also did this song with the Yardbirds, but the origin is actually singer-songwriter Jake Holmes, who included it on his 1967 album The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes. Page has claimed to be unaware of Holmes’ song, but the title and much of the music are unmistakably the same (Page rewrote most of the lyrics). Page apparently heard the song when Holmes opened for the Yardbirds at a Greenwich Village gig. For decades, Holmes declined to sue for authorship; as he put it, I said, ‘What the hell, let him have it.' In 2010, however, Holmes finally filed suit; the case was settled out of court and the 2012 Zeppelin live album Celebration Day credits the song as written by Page; inspired by Jake Holmes.
Whole Lotta Love
When it came time for Plant to lay down vocals over Page’s guitar riff – one of the first times he ever contributed lyrics to a Zeppelin track–he quoted from You Need Love, a song written by Willie Dixon and sung by Muddy Waters in 1962. (Dixon sued in 1985, settled out of court, and is now listed as co-writer.) As Plant later described it, I just thought, ‘Well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time, there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that … Well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game. It’s worth noting, however, that only seven years separate You Need Love and Whole Lotta Love.
The Lemon Song
While the famous lemon-squeezing lyric dates back to Robert Johnson’s Traveling Riverside Blues (also covered by Zeppelin), this song owes more to Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor, which the band had been playing live. A lawsuit soon ensued; as a result, on some pressings of Led Zeppelin II, the track is actually listed as Killing Floor. Ultimately, it reverted to the citrus title, and the band now credits Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf’s real name) as co-author.
Bring It on Home
The closing track on Led Zeppelin II is a Page/Plant composition bookended by quiet bluesy sections. Those bookends, fairly blatantly, are a cover of Bring It on Home, the Sonny Boy Williamson blues song written by Zep favorite Willie Dixon. Page complained, The thing with ‘Bring It on Home,’ Christ, there’s only a tiny bit taken from Sonny Boy Williamson’s version and we threw that in as a tribute to him. People say, ‘Oh, Bring It on Home is stolen.’ Well, there’s only a little bit in the song that relates to anything that had gone before it. However, those bookends are more than a little bit of the track: they form half its running time. On the live album How the West Was Won, released in 2003, the band designated their middle composition as Bring It on Back and gave appropriate credit to Dixon.
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Another track with uncredited elements on loan from another song: In this case, some of the lyrics came from Never, released just two years earlier by one of Plant’s favorite bands, Moby Grape: Working from 11 to 7 every night/Ought to make life a drag became Working from 7 to 11 every night/It really makes life a drag.
Jimmy Page often cited Scottish folk musician Bert Jansch as an influence. So much so that two Zeppelin tracks bear strong similarities to recordings Jansch made: Black Mountain Side borrows heavily from Down by Blackwaterside, while Bron-Y-Aur Stomp is clearly a reworking of Jansch’s The Waggoner’s Lad. Jansch never sued: Although Page gave himself writing credits, the original material is based on folk melodies. But one of Jansch’s bandmates in Pentangle, Jacqui McShee complained, It’s a very rude thing to do. Pinch somebody else’s thing and credit it to yourself.
Hats Off to (Roy) Harper
The last track on Led Zeppelin III, named in tribute to the band’s chum Roy Harper, throws together bits and pieces of various blues songs, most prominently Bukka White’s Shake ‘Em on Down, released in 1937. The band listed the author as Traditional and the arrangement as being by Charles Obscure (a pseudonym for Page).
In My Time of Dying
This 11-minute Physical Graffiti track is credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, but it’s clearly the traditional gospel song that was recorded by many other people, starting with Blind Willie Johnson in 1927 (his version was called Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed) and including Bob Dylan in 1962 (he called it In My Time of Dyin' and made no claim on authorship). No lawsuit resulted: The song is in the public domain.
Boogie With Stu
This excellent cover of Ritchie Valens’ song Ooh My Head was originally intended for Zeppelin’s fourth album with a title of Sloppy Drunk. Eventually released on Physical Graffiti, the song was credited to the four members of Led Zeppelin, plus titular pianist Ian Stewart, and Mrs. Valens, in an effort to get some royalties directly to the mother of the original singer, who had died in a 1959 plane crash. Robert did lean on that lyric a bit, Page conceded. So what happens? They try to sue us for all the song! he said indignantly, as if the band hadn’t borrowed the song’s melody wholesale. We could not believe it.