Stairway vs Taurus. Led Zep should pay something in the Stairway lawsuit.
Debate Rounds (3)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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