Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page are to face a trial over copyright claims that they stole “Stairway to Heaven” from an instrumental song by the band Spirit.
A judge ruled that there were “substantial similarities” between the two tracks that “transcend the core structure”.
Michael Skidmore, a trustee for Spirit’s guitarist and composer Randy Wolfe, claims that Page wrote the rock hit after touring with Spirit in 1968, while Plant and Page argue that Wolfe had no claim to copyright as he was a songwriter for hire.
But “Stairway to Heaven” is not the only song to sound a little too similar to another. Many incidents of apparent copyright are pure coincidence, but the line between plagiarism and inspiration can run thin. Let's take a look at some of the tunes that got legal teams all hot under the collar:
1) “Blurred Lines” by Pharrell and Robin Thicke vs. “Got to Give it Up” by Marvin Gaye
Both musicians were ordered to pay up for infringing the copyright of Gaye's Seventies track, with $7.3 million awarded to his family.
2) “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice vs. “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie
Vanilla Ice’s catchy 1990 song sampled Queen’s famous hit without crediting them as songwriters, as was common in the hip-hop genre at the time. Ice, real name Robert Van Winkle, settled outside court for an undisclosed amount.
3) “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith vs. “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty
This recent case was dealt with quietly early last year, after Petty’s publishers brought the resemblance to the attention of Smith, acknowledging that it was a “musical accident”. Petty’s name was quickly added to the “Stay With Me” credits, shortly before it won Record of the Year at the Grammys.
4) “The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogerty vs. “Run Through The Jungle” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Preapre to be baffled with this one. The CCR frontman was sued by his former label for his 1985 solo song, which it claimed sounded too much like a song he wrote for his band in 1970 that it owned the rights to. Fogerty won the case but a countersuit over attorneys’ fees led to a decades-long feud.
5) “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay vs. “If I Could Fly” by Joe Satriani
Satriani guitarist sued Chris Martin’s band for allegedly stealing “substantial original portions” of his instrumental piece for their 2008 hit. Coldplay denied the claims and the case was settled privately.
Singer Yusef Islam (Cat Stevens) also took issue with “Viva La Vida”, saying it sounded like his Seventies song “Foreigner Suite”. He decided not to pursue the issue however, going after The Flaming Lips for “Fight Test” instead and winning a share of their royalties after spotting similarities with his classic “Father and Son”.
6) “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison vs. “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons
This lengthy lawsuit found Harrison’s song to be “unconscious copyright” of the girl group’s 1962 hit. Unfortunately a complex twist came because by the time the verdict was delivered, former Beatles manager Allen Klein had bought the rights to The Chiffons’ track. Harrison ended up owning it himself.
Other famous clashes include “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars and “Oops Upside Your Head” by The Gap Band; “Come Together” by The Beatles and “You Can’t Catch Me” by Chuck Berry; the Ghostbusters theme tune by Ray Parker Jr and “I Want a New Drug” by Huey Lewis; and “Creep” by Radiohead sampling “The Air That I Breathe” by Albert Hammond.