Stairway to Infringement?

NPR reports that a relatively obscure band called Led Zeppelin has been sued for copyright infringement over a relatively obscure song called “Stairway to Heaven.”  The plaintiffs in the case are the heirs of Randy California, a founding member of the band Spirit, who authored a song called “Taurus” in the late 1960s.  Led Zeppelin toured with Spirit during that time period, and is thought to have been significantly influenced by Spirit’s sound.  California’s heirs assert that the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven” was copied from the opening riff of “Taurus,” and are seeking monetary compensation and a songwriting credit for California.

To prevail on a copyright infringement claim under U.S. law, the claimant has to prove that (1) the accused infringer had access to the copyrighted work (because copyright infringement requires actual copying), and that (2) the accused work and the copyrighted work are substantially similar.  Given the history between the two bands, proving access should not be a problem.  As far as substantial similarity is concerned, the court will have to decide whether “Stairway to Heaven” is similar enough to “Taurus” to support a finding of infringement.  Read the full article here, and listen to the audio clips of the two songs below to make your own judgment.

 Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons.

Reposted from NPR.