Stairway to Court

Spirit and Led Zeppelin are at it again. Spirit is claiming (and has been for a while) that Led Zeppelin’s hit song “Stairway to Heaven” illegally includes parts of their instrumental track “Taurus.” 

Spirit had already sued Led Zeppelin in 2006 for infringement, but that court’s jury found no foul play. However, a mishandling of the jury instructions forced a new trial to occur, which brings us to today’s hearing before the Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Despite Spirit fighting the good fight, courts have sided with Led Zeppelin in the past, and it’s anticipated that they will continue to do so in this trial. Dozens of artists have also come forward to support Led Zeppelin.

This case isn’t just about who has the most original song though. The outcome could determine what is an original song. There have been many mainstream artists who have been sued for using copyrighted material, but there is always the case to be made that the use of older material in a new way can be considered original.

As of yet, there’s no clear definition of what constitutes “original.” Sure, it might seem obvious, but music today, especially those chart topping hits, tends to sound a lot alike. 

One of the biggest lawsuits involving (allegedly) stolen music is Pharrel and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” which was found to be infringing upon Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up.” In that case, Pharrel and Thicke had to give up over 5 million dollars to Gaye’s family.

Katy Perry was also under fire for her hit “Dark Horse” when a Christian rapper accused Perry of stealing his beat from “Joyful Noise.” Despite the pitch and speed being different and Perry never having heard of the song before, Katy Perry was found guilty and had to award the rapper a hefty amount of money.

Making music now has been complicated. It seems as if no one is safe. An inspiration can become twisted into copyright infringement and theft. While it’s never okay to steal, all these blurred lines can keep artists from unleashing their creative abilities and drawing from the great things that are already out there.

Sure, it’d be cool if all artists could just focus on them and make 100% new and unheard of  content, but how likely is that? There’s only so many notes or strings of words that’ll be different from something else.

Even the ideas for songs are often found from other tracks. “Hot Girl Summer” by Megan Thee Stallion, what many have called this year’s summer anthem, has even inspired numerous songs, including Blackbear’s “hot girl bummer.”

Who knows what this will mean for artists in the future. If everyone is antsy to claim that another artist stole something from their song, even if it is a quick string of notes, will artists be afraid to produce quality, original music and instead opt for collaborating with other artists?

If you have any thoughts on music sharing/stealing, please leave them in the comments! I’d love to start a discussion with you!

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Amber Cavazos

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