If artists claim originality for a riff –
who is supposed to really prove them wrong?
Did Led Zeppelin steal the riff from “Stairway to Heaven“? Spirit have been battling the rock giants in a seemingly endless court case since 2014. They claim Zeppelin used a melody section from their own instrumental “Taurus“. In 2016, Zeppelin had been found not guilty of copyright infringement on Spirit‘s song. In 2018, however, a new trial was ordered, apparently due to erronious jury instructions. This Monday, the argument continued in yet another hearing at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Spirit‘s lawyer, Francis Malofiy, brought forth the argument that “Jimmy Page has five of Spirit‘s albums in his record collection“, as he ingeniously told The Associated Press. No doubt Page nicked the riff then, right? It‘s not that easy, Francis. “Stairway“ goes all the way back to 1971, and it‘s arguably one of Zeppelin‘s most famous songs. Yet it‘s true: if you listen to “Taurus“, there are striking similarities, and the Spirit song was published three years earlier. Hence, the band‘s legal attempt is legitimate.
But can anyone ever really find out the truth? As long as Page claims he did not steal the riff, who is supposed to prove him wrong? Fans say the whole affair feels like a cash grab at Zeppelin‘s fortune. And leading a battle against what has grown to be one of rock‘s most famous enterprises appears daunting, to say the least. Yet protecting artists‘ creations is undoubtedly indispensable, as is taking their concerns on potential copyright infringement seriously. But in a situation like this, when it‘s brawler against brawler, where shall the jury really draw the line? It makes me wonder.