‘Stairway to Heaven’ might be one of rock’s greatest anthems but it’s had quite the rocky history.
The Led Zeppelin classic has been challenged legally multiple times, which the band’s frontman Robert Plan has called “unpleasant” and “unfortunate.”
The first lawsuit came in 2014 from Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy California: he claimed that Zeppelin’s 1971 track had violated the copyright of Spirit’s ‘Taurus’, which came out three years previously in 1968 (compare the two songs below).
Zeppelin kept fighting though, and won three legal challenges over the case. The most recent one took place just last year, with the U.S. Supreme Court declining to even hear the case.
In a new interview with BBC Radio 4, Plant spoke about the stress of the constant legal challenges.
“What can you do? I just had to sit there, I was instructed to sit directly opposite the jury, don’t look at them but just don’t look at anybody, just sit there for eight hours,” he told host Clive Anderson. “As much as I am musical, I cannot comment on anything musical. I just sing.”
Incredibly, there’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to Led Zeppelin songs written or inspired by others; very few rock bands have been as cited as them for being influenced or ripping off other music.
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“In their career, the British rock band Led Zeppelin recorded many songs that consisted, in whole or part, of pre-existing songs, melodies, or lyrics,” it states. “They sometimes credited those sources; sometimes not. The band has been sued a number of times over attribution, some cases having concluded with others being awarded writing credit for the song in question.”
Rolling Stone even wrote an article about the band’s 10 bolest rip-offs. “Whether or not Jimmy Page and Robert Plant stole ‘Stairway to Heaven’, their catalog is full of blatant musical swipes,” they wrote.
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