Led Zeppelin’s million dollar ‘Stairway to Heaven’ lawsuit and other ‘rip-offs’

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Surviving members of the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin are in the midst of a legal battle in a bid to save one of their most popular songs and possibly the greatest rock song—Stairway To Heaven. Musician Randy California, one of the founding members of the rock band Spirit, has sued Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement, alleging that a few riffs from Zeppelin’s hit were ‘lifted’ from Spirit’s instrumental track Taurus. If the Led Zeppelin members are found guilty, the case would cost them tens of millions of dollars and taint the biggest rock hits of all time.

We bring you a few popular songs that sound quite similar to a few other lesser-known hits. Were they too ‘ripped off’?

1. British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s 2014 album X which featured two of his most popular songs Thinking Out Loud and Photograph met with immense critical and commercial success. After winning all the popular awards for the album, Sheeran has now landed himself in a legal soup as songwriters from The X Factor (season 7)—Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard—have filed a lawsuit of $20 million alleging that Photograph is similar to their 2009 single Amazing.

2. Another ongoing high-profile case of recent times is that of Pharell Williams and Robin Thicke vs the Marvin Gaye estate. Marvin Gaye’s family has alleged that Robin Thicke’s recent chartbuster Blurred Lines was lifted from Gaye’s 1977 superhit disco number Got To Give It Up. Although the jury asked Thicke and company to pay $7.4 million for copyright infringement and half of all future royalties to the Gaye family, a counter-appeal against the court order was filed.

3. Sam Smith swept away all major awards with the hit single Stay With Me, but he ran into trouble when Tom Petty filed a lawsuit demanding 12.5 per cent songwriting credits, as the song sounded ‘too similar’ to Petty’s 1989 song I Won’t Back Down. Although Smith claimed that he had never heard of Petty’s song, the case was settled amicably.

4. Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk zoomed to the top of the charts right after its release. The producer was soon slammed with notices that most of the songs from the album were ‘influenced’. Surprisingly, Ronson admitted to most of the claims and changed the writing credits of Uptown Funk to include names of members of The Gap Band and its 1979 song Ooops Up Side Your Head.

5. Now, Oasis is one band that has had quite a history of plagiarism. Band members had to cough up half a million dollars after it was proved that the song Shakermaker from their debut album Definitely Maybe was stolen from I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing by The New Seekers. They ran into trouble again with their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, when Step Out sounded too similar to Stevie Wonder’s Uptight (Everything’s Alright). Stevie was later given the writing credits for the song.

6. A British band called Killing Joke alleged that the main guitar riff of Nirvana’s Come As You Are was lifted from their song Eighties, but nobody knows what followed. While some music reporters say they never filed a lawsuit, others say that a case was filed and later withdrawn after Kurt Cobain’s death.

7. Legendary guitarist Joe Satriani claimed that Coldplay’s Viva La Vida was majorly borrowed from his song If I Could Fly. The case was dismissed after the band denied the allegations. But the band had earlier admitted that Ride’s Dreams Burn Down and Elbow’s Grace Under Pressure ‘influenced’ their hit songs In My Place and Fix You.

8. Psychedelic rock band Radiohead too were sued by songwriters Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood for the song that put them on the international map—Creep. According to them, Creep is too similar to a song they had written for the band The Hollies called The Air That I Breathe. The writers won the case and Radiohead paid them an undisclosed amount.

9. Long before the Stairway to Heaven controversy, Led Zeppelin had been accused of stealing Whole Lotta Love from Willie Dixon’s You Need Love. The band later credited him as a co-writer.

10. Lady Gaga and Madonna got into a war of words after Gaga’s Bad Romance was released. The Queen of Pop filed no lawsuit but went around telling the world how it was directly lifted from her song Express Yourself. She even performed a mash-up of both the songs during one of her tours and said that Gaga could never become what Madonna is.

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