When the legendary band Led Zeppelin was cleared of Stairway to Heaven plagiarism charges recently, there is no question that it was a good day for Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and the rest. However, it is worth keeping in mind that Led Zeppelin is no stranger to the courtroom. Nor are they unfamiliar with accusations of plagiarism. In fact, such claims have dogged the band on a number of occasions, leading some to question their creativity and integrity.
Regardless of how you feel about the matter, you cant deny that Led Zeppelin has been involved with a number of plagiarism cases, in form or another. We should also keep in mind that these sorts of cases are extremely common.
Led Zeppelin and Plagiarism
The most recent Led Zeppelin plagiarism lawsuit involved their famous song Stairway to Heaven, and a 1967 song by Spirit entitled Taurus. The estate behind Taurus, as well as members of the band, argued that Stairway was lifted from their work, after both bands played on the same bill at a concert in 1970. Further testimony stated that not only did the groups play together on a specific night, but that they also hung out together afterwards.
Both Plant and Page denied the claims. Eventually, Zeppelin came out on top in the lawsuit. Among other elements of their defense, singer-songwriter Robert Plant offered a detailed account of the incident that he said actually led to the writing of stairway.
As mentioned before, this is not the only time Led Zeppelin has found themselves in court. Arc Music brought a famous lawsuit against the band in 1972, arguing that Zeppelin had stolen heavily in the writing and recording of Bring it on Home and The Lemon Song. Another incident saw Zeppelin defending plagiarism accusations against Whole Lotta Love. Yet another lawsuit would involve whether or not Zeppelin had stolen from Ritchie Valens. All of these involved Led Zeppelin paying settlements to various parties. For Whole Lotta Love, later pressings of the record gave credit to Willie Dixon, who had accused the band of ripping off his song You Need Love.
While Led Zeppelin has had several lawsuits and accusations brought against them over the years, they are not the only artists who have fought for or defended against plagiarism/credit claims.
If you want a few more examples to supplement all of the Led Zeppelin stuff, you wont have to travel very far. You can find successful suits/settlements, as well as unsuccessful suits. You can also find cases that were left unsettled, or ones that only existed in the form of allegation. A number of suits over the years have also been forgiven over time.
For example, The Beatles 1969 track Come Together contains a line from a Chuck Berry song. Berrys publisher sued, and songwriter John Lennon made a settlement that involved promising to record three songs from their catalog for his next album. Lennon failed to make good on this promise, and wound up having to pay a settlement.
Oasis is a band that has had to defend itself in court (unsuccessfully) against various accusations. Most famously, a court awarded co-writing credit to musician-comedian Neil Innes, regarding similarities between Oasis, Whatever and Innes How Sweet to Be an Idiot.
Most recently, both Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were found guilty of ripping off Marvin Gaye to write their controversial track Blurred Lines.
Examples of unsuccessful suits abound. John Fogerty was once unsuccessfully sued for self-plagiarism. Nirvana’s Come as You Are was the target of a 1993 lawsuit by Killing Joke. The suit was eventually dropped, when Kurt Cobain tragically died.
Unsettled Music Plagiarism Suits
Unsettled lawsuits involving music can be found throughout the decades, as well. There are also numerous examples of situations in which an accusation is made, or similarities are merely noticed, and the matter dies there. One example of this would be the similarities between Bruce Springsteen 2007 track Radio Nowhere and the 1982 Tommy Tutone released 867-5309/Jenny. Beyond a comment from Tommy Heath that the world had perhaps become too litigious, nothing further has come of the matter. In certain instances, artists have found themselves plagiarized, but unable to take the matter further. Eric Clapton and Louise King Mathews are one example of this.