Editorial time, from your ol’ uncle. Illustration, above, lifted from Reuters, natch. Dudes don’t look particularly chuffed to dump the tees and bellbottoms and put on proper man suits….
By Uncle Blurt
It wasn’t a foregone conclusion, but it was still a widely expected conclusion: the songwriters of Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Stairway to Heaven” have won a widely-publicized copyright infringement case brought by the estate of Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California of Spirit, whose “Taurus” composition was alleged to have been plagiarised for the Zep tune.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the LA jury delivered a verdict after about a day’s worth of deliberation of “not guilty.”
“The unanimous decision by the panel of eight men and women came after a week-long trial in which Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones took the stand to rebuff the claim of thievery and tell how the band’s most famous song was created nearly half a century ago. Jones was not a defendant in the case.
“Page and Plant hugged members of their defense team after the clerk read the verdict from the four-man, four-woman jury. ‘We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” they said in a joint statement. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.'”
Well, that’s that, then. Go HERE to listen to some great live Spirit from 1967. The song “Taurus” is part of the setlist. Feel free to send the link to the Zep camp just in case they start to feel funny about all this and need some memory jogging. The similarities between the two songs are impossible to avoid, and legalities dating from 4 decades’ ago aside, there is such a matter as “doing the right thing.”
After all, Page and Plant willingly coughed up a good chunk of dough to the estates of some old black dudes, er, great African-American blues legends, back in the day. The element of condescension back then was only mitigated by the inevitability of the court of public opinion.
What is the public court going to settle on with this one? Given that plenty more than half the planet’s music fans, in 2016, have never heard of the band Spirit – the group ain’t on the level of Muddy Waters or Willie Dixon, in other words – it’s likely that not too many folks other than aging rock writers such as yours truly will step up and speak for Spirit. But how much would it hurt to do likewise and help out a fellow rock peer’s family – which, let us not forget, includes the son of Randy Wolfe, who was saved from drowning by his father off the coast of Hawaii. Wolfe, however, drowned. Does that make him a hero? That’s not the point. Whether or not he would have ever brought the lawsuit up himself is hard to know, although it’s pretty obvious that in the ’70s, the notion of a hippie musician taking a fellow hippie musician to court was anathema to the peace/love ethos of the times.
It’s a funny time for copyright law watchers, admittedly. Me, I tend to default to the aforementioned “do the right thing” when things get too obtuse.