The Instigator
eV4658
Pro (for)
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0 Points
The Contender
jmaas
Con (against)
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0 Points

Stairway vs Taurus. Led Zep should pay something in the Stairway lawsuit.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/21/2016 Category: Music
Updated: 11 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 377 times Debate No: 92963
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (3)
Votes (0)

 

eV4658

Pro

Zep is great. But they have a long history of borrowing and sometimes just stealing music and reworking it to great effect. Examples include: Dazed and Confused, Bring it on home, Whole Lotta Love (You Need Love - Willie Dixon; You Need Lovin - Small Faces), The Lemon Song (The Killing Floor - Howlin Wolf), Bring it on home (Willie Dixon). Attribution came later for several cases after a law suit. So the pattern is clear. I think Stairway to heaven is clearly a completely different song than Taurus. But the sound of the first part is just too similar to believe it didn't influence them. Also, it is not credible that Zep was not familiar with Taurus. They opened for Spirit and covered another of their songs. I think they should give a partial writing credit and pay something?
jmaas

Con

Good argument, but as a musician myself, I am going to have to disagree with you, and I'll tell you why...

Every song that has been written shares a similarity to another song that has already been written.

Since there are a finite number of tones our ears can distinguish, and since it only takes a few notes that are in common to make two songs sound similar, don't you think that the possibilities start to become limited in order to make 100% originality?
Let's put this into perspective: There are approximately 79 billion combinations you can make with 8 notes over 12 intervals (based off the octave system used in the U.S.). That may sound like a lot of possibilities, but let's put that into perspective again: Say, if 100 songwriters wrote one new melody each per second, that would mean that all possibly melodies would be exhausted in only 248 years...Not much time at all.

What I am getting at here, is that there are most definitely going to be very similar tunes out there, and that is okay. Originality doesn't come from having a similar riff, or even an almost exactly similar riff, originality comes from so many other things. Consider the lyrics of the two songs, and how different they are and what they mean. Also, consider the use of the instruments and how the players of those instruments interpreted the different melodies. And of course, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" doesn't sound like Taurus all the way through, not by a long shot. I think in this case, Taurus has band members who are ignorant to the fact of what music is and how it is used throughout the ages, or perhaps they are just looking for money, I don't know. The fact of the matter is, it just doesn't matter if there are similarities. Now, if I was present for when the first tune was ever played on an instrument or whistled, and then some other cave man bloke came along and started whistling something similar, then it would be an issue, but in today's day and age where music has been recycled again and again, it simply isn't necessary.
Debate Round No. 1
eV4658

Pro

Excellent response and much appreciated to get such a thoughtful response by a fellow musician. But I still disagree with the conclusion. I can't dispute any of the logic of your argument and frankly agree with almost all of it. But I will explain why I don't agree with the conclusion.

First of all, I believe that it is in the public interest for there to be copyright protection for songwriters. Due to technology changes in music distribution, revenues from songwriting have declined dramatically. I think that while songwriters pursue songwriting for the love of music, financial incentives are a big factor. Today we have almost infinite multi-tracking capability and yet the quality of new songs today seems to pale in comparison to earlier generations. Just think that Sgt. Pepper was made on a four track. They payoff to develop the craft of songwriting today isn't there.

In the past, there was a standard for when you take someone's material. It seems the standard was applied inconsistently in court. John Lennon was successfully sued by the owners of the Chuck Berry song "You Can't Catch Me" for making what was basically a small reference to that song in "Come Together" - two completely different songs. Of note is that Chuck Berry didn't want to sue, but the end result was a settlement with Lennon recording other old songs owned by them - Rock nRoll. So everybody won.

Randy California clearly felt they took from him. Here is a quote from Randy "Well, if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment. It"s an exact" 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 some day their conscience will make them do something about it. I don"t know. There are funny business dealings between record companies, managers, publishers, and artists. But when artists do it to other artists, there"s no excuse for that. I"m mad! "

Stairway and Taurus are completely different songs. But I think there is no question that Page "borrowed" the main riff and adapted it. He was very skilled and knowledgeable. Now you can argue that songwriting is a craft of basically borrowing and adapting other ideas into a new context. So where do you draw the line. I would have preferred Page being honest ans saying that he might have heard it. It just seems to obvious. I think they could settled out of court and given California a partial credit and some small money. Clearly I am in the minority in this opinion and I love Zep (first concert I every saw right before Bohnam died). I am amazed at how much they have borrowed and even stolen. But when i listen to what they took from, it all seems to have a different feel and be incredible to enjoy. Also, while they took and borrowed from blues artists, apparently blues artist had a habit of doing this to each other. I guess the attitude was if it becomes big then they can sue and we deal with it then. Moby Dick and I feel fine both borrowed from Bobby Parker's Watch Your Step. I feel bad that Parker never got to make anything off that. But Lennon and Page were aware of the similarities and made sure to change it enough to not have to pay. They each referred to Watch Your Step as their respective inspiration.

I think the attitude is take but change enough so you don't get caught. For example here is a quote from Lennon on Harrison taking My Sweet Lord from He's So Fine: "Well, he walked right into it. He knew what he was doing. He must have known, you know. He's smarter than that. It's irrelevant, actually... only on a monetary level does it matter. He could have changed a couple of bars in that song and nobody could ever have touched him, but he just let it go and paid the price. Maybe he thought God would just sort of let him off."

I think Page heard Taurus and adapted it into the intro to Stairway. I just wish that the jury could have considered that. Furthermore, I read the jury didn't even get to hear the two passages to compare. I am not at all saying California deserves credit for Stairway. But i think a partial credit would be appropriate.

Frankly, I think this case is very much in the gray area and I wanted to take the harder to defend side to stimulate debate on the issue as I think copyright issues for artist today and going forward are going to be big challenges. But my conclusion is that if Page won in court, he didn't win fairly. I think he heard the song and modified it. I think he got away with it. As a footnote, I am surprised that I'm Too Sexy was never sued by the estate of Hendrix for taking the melody of Third Stone from the Sun.

Thanks again for your thoughtful counter. I still respectfully disagree.
jmaas

Con

That would be true if Page had actually heard Taurus, but it is very unlikely. The songs were made in the 70's, a time where in order to have even heard Taurus so early on, Led Zeppelin would have had to hear it in a festival of some sort or music gathering. In the court hearings, evidence surfaced that they could have crossed paths with Taurus, but there was never a time when Led Zeppelin actually attended a show of theirs. Also, the court named Led Zeppelin innocent. Jimmy Page stated that they had written the song "Stairway to Heaven" a long time before they put it on a record. You are right though, the jury didn't get to hear Taurus's song because it was not protected under federal copywrite law at the time, but they were given the sheet music.

I think it is noble of you to stand up for copy write issues with artists, but I honestly think it happens to little to make it a major concern. Mostly, musicians don't give a crap and don't sue and just let bygones be bygones. But the issue still stands that the court case between Zeppelin and Taurus was not quite fair. I think you are right on that. But to be honest, with all the evidence in that case, I think Led Zeppelin was just making music and nothing else.
Debate Round No. 2
eV4658

Pro

Zeppelin opened for Spirit several times, Page claimed to be a fan of Spirit and Zeppelin covered a Spirit song called Fresh Garbage that was on the same album as Taurus. So I think it is just not believable the Page had not heard Taurus. I think he not only heard it, but adapted it to Stairway. The jury didn't get to hear the songwriters views from an old interview nor the actual songs, but just see the sheet music. However, I think even if Page said he did use Taurus for inspiration for Stairway, I think there is still an argument to be had both ways. I am inclined to favor California primarily because of the long history of Zeppelin taking other music without attribution. But I still love Led Zeppelin. To me it doesn't take away from their music. They are not the only great artists that do this. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys stole Sweet Little Sixteen from Chuck Berry and called it Surfin USA. But i still think Wilson is a genius. But he did have to ultimately give credit to Chuck Berry. But that case was a clear note for note theft. Here i think partial attribution would be appropriate. For example, in Zeppelin's first album it used to say that Dazed and Confused was written by Jimmy Page, but later they changed it to: Jimmy Page, inspired by Jake Holmes. They could have done something like that for Randy California and paid very little money.
jmaas

Con

Okay yeah you are right, Led Zeppelin has a tendency to steal bits and pieces from others songs. But as you said "They could have done something like that for Randy California and paid very little money" I would disagree. Taurus was asking for the royalties, which would cost Led Zeppelin millions of dollars.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that I know Led Zeppelin could be guilty of stealing that beginning riff...There is definitely that possibility. But what I am suggesting, and a lot of people might disagree with this, is that it just doesn't matter. The music is different, they are about completely different things, and they use different styles. It is such a small thing to be concerned about. If I were Taurus I would be absolutely ecstatic that Jimmy Page and his band of genius's thought my opening riff was so good that they would want to use it in their smash hit. I agree with you, if Taurus had just asked for some credit such as putting their name next to Led Zeppelins as a co composer, that would have been ideal, and I think Led Zeppelin very well might have accepted that (if they were guilty of stealing that is, we can't be sure), but unfortunately Taurus wanted money, and a lot of it! That makes it difficult, it brings tension between the two bands, and it makes the music not about the art, but about the money, and that is just nonsense. I hope you'd agree with that if you are a musician. If somebody stole a beginning riff off of my song, I would never sue them for all the money that song was worth, I would never do that in a million years. The music is just to good and to wonderful to do something like that. No, I would like you suggested, simply ask for credit on the song composition.
Debate Round No. 3
3 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Posted by eV4658 11 months ago
eV4658
Same here. I enjoyed it as well and learned something. I actually didn't know all the stuff i put into my arguments, but did some google research. So I learned too. Thanks for your participating and providing quality counter points.
Posted by jmaas 11 months ago
jmaas
Loved debating with you! I hope we have both learned something. I certainly have. Thanks for being a champ.
Posted by eV4658 11 months ago
eV4658
Well the time has past for me to counter again so i am responding to your last argument as a posted comment. You make a valid point that they were asking for a lot of money and attribution was more of a smoke screen. That was likely because it was the estate of Randy California. Maybe if Randy California pursued it directly I would feel stronger about the attribution and some money. However, I think there is a positive outcome here in that many people who never heard of Spirit or Randy California have now heard of them. Also, other good things have come out of these copyright lawsuits. As I mentioned, the album Rock n Roll by Lennon came about as a settlement for a B.S. lawsuit over Come Together. And the lawsuits for blues artist help people learn about earlier work. I think it was Picasso who once said "Good artist borrow, Great artist steel". I remember when I was in college, taking a music history course we went over a note for note comparison of two pieces of music from the classical era: one piece from an obscure composer and the other from one of the greats (I think it was Joseph Haydn). Clearly the great composer stole the melody of the lesser known work, but the end result of his reworking was wonderful and the original was very mediocre. So this has been going on for years. Love the debate on the issue.
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