Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Not Buying a Stairway to Riches

Led Zeppelin, copyright, lawsuit

I am not a writer by trade. I don’t make a living off of these daily and weekly writing gigs. I give this stuff away, for free. The donations I ask for are there to cover bandwidth, website expertise, artwork, etc. They don’t cover my contributions.

But that doesn’t disqualify me from my occasional wonder and amazement (and worse) at how intellectual “property” is handled in America.

This week a Los Angeles jury found that the great rock band “Led Zeppelin did not plagiarize the opening chords of the rock epic Stairway to Heaven from the U.S. band Spirit,” the BBC reports. “It said the riff Led Zeppelin was accused of taking from Spirit’s 1967 song Taurus ‘was not intrinsically similar’ to Stairway’s opening.”

So, my surprise, and perhaps yours too, is that a riff, a mere riff, taken from one song and put into another, could be actionable at law. It seems to me that this would be like suing over an essay title (one has no private property rights to your headlines, no matter how original), or clever turn of phrase. Writers copy this stuff all the time. Even more commonly, they inadvertently regurgitate these writerly “riffs” from the far corners of their minds, or even think up these things separately.

But honestly, I didn’t think one could sue over a riff. Riffs and chord progressions vary in originality, but some of the best songs use the same three chords, so there is a lot of apparent “stealing” going on.

Thankfully, the jury wisely knew the difference between What Is and What Should Never Be.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

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Led Zeppelin, copyright, lawsuit


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