May 20 2014, 4:01pm CDT | by Jessica Hannan
Zeppelin’s iconic ‘Stairway to Heaven’ has made over half a billion dollars in profits, and deceased singer Randy California’s lawyer says the artist deserves some of the future profits. “Taurus”, Randy California’s song with the band Spirit, would have been heard numerous times as Zeppelin opened for the band four times between 1968 and 1969.
Thanks to sites like YouTube, fans and artists alike are able to use digital recordings to compare if there’s a case of stolen work.
So why wait until now to sue when California has been dead for well over a decade?
Lawyers cost money and funding couldn’t be procured. With the reissuing of Zeppelin’s “Led Zeppelin,” “Led Zeppelin II” and “Led Zeppelin III” due out soon, now is the perfect time to credit California’s part in the lawsuit if the legal system sides with the singer’s trust.
In Brad Tolinski’s “Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page,” the singer openly admits “I always tried to bring something fresh to anything I used.” However. many artists feel there is a difference between borrowing and stealing.
Several cases against the British rock group have been found in favor of the plaintiff.
During the early 1970s, Chester Brunett’s music publisher sued the band for “The Lemon Song,” which bears a striking resemblance to “Killing Floor.” And in 1979, blues legend Willie Dixon’s daughter, Shirley Dixon-Nelson, heard Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and noticed the eerie similarity to “You Need Love.” The two parties reached a settlement in 1987, where the members of Led Zeppelin are credited alongside Dixon.
According to Dixon’s wife Marie, winning the case hasn’t really produced any significant funds for the singer’s trust, either. After the legal battle, Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation focuses on blues artists’ legal rights through scholarships and local programs.
Several years after Shirley Dixon-Nelson began her lawsuit, Anne Bredon filed for copyright infringement.
A student and singer at the University of California at Berkeley in 1960, she wrote and performed “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” Through sharing with her friend Janet Smith, and later Joan Baez’s use, Jimmy Page and the band recorded and placed the song on “Led Zeppelin I.” Page only credited himself. Bredon and Smith sued the band as co-plaintiffs and earned back and current royalties. All Bredon wanted was “to get my name on the song so they knew I wrote it.”
Page and the band’s systematic plagiarism and prior cases may end up hurting them in the end. Especially with proof Led Zeppelin played Spirit’s “Fresh-Garbage” while touring together.
“Stairway to Heaven” is the quintessential rock anthem many people know without hearing a spoken word. Another rock anthem will be a little tainted in creative genius, those representing California can prove that Page knowingly used and uncredited the original creator.
Randy California died saying his 12-year-old son from a rip-tide in 1997, so the trust had to make the decision to choose where to put the money. Whatever funds may come from the case to California’s trust will follow in the same vein of Dixon by going into the Randy California Project. Project funding focuses on music school programs in need of instruments, lessons, and band direction in Ventura, Cali., and Quincy, Mass.
The wider question for the music world is what constitutes borrowing and stealing. Court cases and lawsuits like those against Led Zeppelin offer those not backed by major companies the chance for recognition – and yes, paid-compensation.
Compare the songs here, as posted by TotallySoundsLike on YouTube, and let us know what you think.
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