Lawyer For Spirit's Randy California Sues to Stop Reissue of "Led Zeppelin IV"

43 years after its original release, Francis Alexander Maloify, a lawyer for the trust of late Spirit guitarist Randy California has filed a suit to block the release of the reissue of Led Zeppelin IV.

At issue is the intro to what is arguably Zeppelin's most famous track, Stairway to Heaven. The lawyer is claiming that those initial plucked guitar notes from the song are the same as the Spirit instrumental track Taurus from their self-titled 1968 debut album. Listen to the track here starting at the 45 second mark.

Bloomberg News reports that the seeds of plagiarism may have been planted on December 26, 1968 when Zeppelin opened for Spirit at the Denver Auditorium Arena. Spirit bassist Mark Andes (later of Heart) believes that the members of Zeppelin heard the song on that night and appropriated it in 1970 during a long writing session in Wales that produced Stairway to Heaven, among other songs.

Andes went on to say that, within a few days of that appearance, Zeppelin was already playing the Spirit song Fresh-Garbage in their set, a song from the same side of the album as Taurus.

While the band may have had lingering suspicions over the years, it wasn't until an interview with Randy California, published after his death in 1997, that the allegation became public. "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.”

Molofiy says that he will seek to block the reissue of Zeppelin's Led Zeppelin IV, which does not yet have a scheduled date, based on copyright infringement. The aim is to get California on the song as a co-writer and, of course, a portion of the profits.

The full story of the suit along with the long history of Zeppelin's reappropriation of songs can be seen at Bloomberg Businessweek.


Petefloyd Strat said...

How can you own that simple minor chord run-down? You'll hear it in Cry Baby Cry on the Beatles White album, on Something by George Harrison and many other songs. Bringing up this issue might generate a few sales for Spirit though.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the Strat -- I heard someone on CNN state that the Plaintiffs had conducted a "survey," and 18 of 30 people thought the section of Taurus at issue was Stairway to Heaven. This just shows the basic musical ignorance of lay-people, not that the songs are so identical in nature as to consitute copyright infringement. Both songs have a minor chord feel with a descending bass line and some contrapuntal motion -- to say these are substantially similar under copyright law is ridiculous.

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