Led Zeppelin has finally won their long-running copyright lawsuit over their iconic song, “Stairway to Heaven.” The original lawsuit was filed in 2014 with claims that the band stole the guitar-led introduction from the song, “Taurus,” by Spirit. After multiple trials, a jury found that Zeppelin did not infringe on the copyright of the instrumental in “Stairway to Heaven.” Although this lawsuit ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin, it is commonly known in the rock scene that the band ripped off many great artists in their early years without credit. Their years of copyright infringement resulted in Zeppelin receiving credit for creating some of the best songs of all time. Unfortunately, Led Zeppelin did not craft the entirety of their signature songs, they know it, we know it, so why do we still overlook it?
In 1968, Led Zeppelin took the stage for the very first time as a group comprised of Jimmy Page (guitar), Robert Plant (vocals), John Bonham (drums) and John Paul Jones (bass). After some rehearsals, the band’s electricity could not be denied. But, despite the immense talent of the members, there were many instances where their music was far from original. Looking at the early and most memorable Led Zeppelin albums, there were multiple areas where lyrics or guitar riffs were oddly similar to some already-released blues artist’s songs. The band was known for their blues-rock sound in the early years, so could these moments be rip offs or just inspiration? “Whole Lotta Love,” one of Zeppelin’s most popular songs, resulted in a lawsuit for copyright infringment in 1985 for blatant plagiarism of the lyrics from Willie Dixon’s, “You Need Love.” And while Page has been quite vocal about his blues influences, he wasn’t as open about the artists he “borrowed” from. “Dazed and Confused,” originally written by Jake Holmes, was swiped by Page after collaboration with Holmes during his time in the Yardbirds. In spite of his work on the song, he received no credit to the song on the record. Many more songs have been accused of being pilfered from other songs, but few have actually become lawsuits. Eventually, Led Zeppelin began to rely on their song-writing talents and produce original, renowned songs. From their first four albums, 21 were original songs, 4 were covered with credit and 11 were ripped off from other artists without credit. As time went on, and the band started getting caught, they focused more on keeping their music original, a decision that would keep their status as one of the greats in rock and roll.
Led Zeppelin has become one of the most iconic bands in the rock scene. They were pioneers for hard rock and paved the way for future rock bands to explore heavier instrumentals. Their fusion of blues with hard rock created a new genre that actually could get radio air time. When we look back at what was once considered, “the devil’s music,” we can’t help but laugh, knowing how much more intense our rock scene has become. Without bands like Led Zeppelin, we wouldn’t have the many different subgenres of rock that we’ve grown to know and love. The reason why we have looked past Led Zeppelin’s history of plagiarism is because the songs are groundbreaking. Much of the most iconic songs were in fact Led Zeppelin originals. “Immigrant Song,” “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Ramble On,” are just some of the classic originals. While it is still wrong for them to have stolen pieces of songs, in a modern technological age, we can at least acknowledge the original artists and give them the credit they deserve. Thanks to the internet, we can discover the original artists and hear how the song originally sounded, yet still love the Led Zeppelin knock-off.
We still praise Zeppelin for their contributions to rock and roll, despite their handful of lifted music. The band’s musical talent cannot be denied, Jimmy Page is known as one of the greatest guitar players and other band members are praised just as highly. Led Zeppelin truly is one of the most influential bands in rock, but we can’t keep pretending that everything they produced came from them. The original artists must be acknowledged for their talents as well. So I implore you to check out Joan Baez’s, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” Bert Jansch’s, “Down by Blackwaterslide,” “Dazed and Confused,” by Jake Holmes, and the Willie Dixon originals, “You Shook Me, ” “Bring it on Home,” and “You Need Love,” and appreciate the virtuosity of the original artists.