Led Zeppelin’s reissues of their classic albums, set for release next month, may come with a side order of legal drama. The band is being sued over the authorship of its signature tune, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Former members of the 1960s band Spirit claim “Heaven” is a copyright infringement on their song “Taurus.” “Taurus” is an instrumental that was composed by Spirit guitarist Randy California in 1968.
California was quiet for years about the controversy, but Bloomberg Businessweek reported last week that he told Listener magazine in 1997 he thought Led Zeppelin knew what they were doing:
“I’d say it was a ripoff. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it.”
The suit is a long time coming. As TIME puts it, “Fans have noted the similarity to Spirit’s ‘Taurus’ for decades.”
The evidence is not the mere similarity of the music. “Taurus” predates “Stairway” by two years, and Spirit played gigs with Zeppelin in 1969 before “Stairway” was released.
Spirit bassist Mark Andes claims “Taurus” was always a part of their set. Thanks to the internet, curious music fans don’t have to run to a record store looking for an old copy of “Taurus” on vinyl to hear for themselves. They can simply go to YouTube to check it out:
California died in 1997 while heroically rescuing his young son from drowning. The trust that handles California’s royalties and Andes are the parties suing Led Zeppelin.
Rolling Stone reports California’s family could not previously afford to pay attorneys. For that reason, they have waited until now to take legal action against Zeppelin. California did not die a wealthy man — Rolling Stone also reports he was playing gigs at an Indian restaurant in exchange for food at the end of his life.
Jimmy Page made news recently, as previously reported by The Inquisitr, by promoting the upcoming reissues and touting their inclusion of eight previously unreleased tracks.
The Spirit claim is the latest in a string of lawsuits brought against Led Zeppelin over song authorship. According to Businessweek, Zeppelin has settled lawsuits in the past over the songs “Whole Lotta Love,” “Baby I’m Gonna Leave You,” “The Lemon Song” and “Dazed and Confused.”
If Randy California’s trust gets any money from the Led Zeppelin lawsuit, kids who want to play music will get the proceeds. California’s royalty trust, according to Businessweek, funds the Randy California Project which has given money to schools in Ventura, California and Quincy, Massachusetts for children to receive music lessons, instruments, and bandleaders. If educating the next generation of musicians is the result of the suit, it’s not a bad legacy for California — or for Led Zeppelin.
[Image: Heinrich Klaffs/Flickr]