In what’s becoming phenomenon since last year’s court decision awarding Marvin Gaye’s estate $7.4 million dollars for copyright infringement, two more lawsuits were filed last week seeking damages for plagiarized songs.
Michael Skidmore, representing the estate of Randy Craig Wolfe, filed suit against Led Zeppelin accusing the legendary British band of lifting the iconic guitar riff for 1971’s “Stairway to Heaven” from “Taurus”, a 1968 instrumental song by Wolfe’s band, Spirit.
Two days later, news broke that Bill Withers (best known for his 1972 hit “Lean on Me”) had filed suit against rapper Kendrick Lamar for plagiarizing his song “Don’t You Want to Stay” in 2009.
“It’ll keep getting worse, because as long as someone is making money off someone else’s music that artist is going to want their piece,” said “Pistol” Pete Nelson, program director for Delta College’s KWDC radio station. “When you think you have someone taking money out of your pocket you’re going to be upset about it.”
While lawsuits such as these aren’t new to the music industry, the allegations against Led Zeppelin and Kendrick Lamar mark the latest in a long line of high profile cases involving plagiarized songs.
Since early 2015, Robin Thicke, Sam Smith, Mark Ronson, Meghan Trainor, Guns N’ Roses, Rod Stewart, Pharrell (twice) and Taylor Swift have all had to defend themselves from accusations of copyright infringement.
The cases against Thicke-with Pharrell as co-defendant-Smith and Ronson have been successful. However, the suit against Thicke and Pharrellfoundthe musicians guilty of plagiarizing Gaye’s “Got to Give it Up” in the hit “Blurred Lines” is the one that resulted in the large payout to Gaye’s estate and perhaps the dawn of a new age of scrutiny.
“I knew I’d heard that song before,” said Delta College student Seija Fredeen, referring to the first time she listened to “Blurred Lines”. “I didn’t know who did it originally, but I knew I’d heard it done by somebody else.”
Led Zeppelin and Spirit toured together in the late 1960s and there was never any apparent conflict over the similarities between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven.”
While Led Zeppelin has been sued successfully on five prior occasions for plagiarizing songs, Wolfe had been quoted as saying he’d “let [Led Zeppelin] have the beginning of ‘Taurus’ for their song without a lawsuit.”
Forty-five years later, the trustees of Wolfe’s estate are seeing things differently, filing suit for copyright infringement and violation of Wolfe’s “right of attribution.”
The case involving Withers and Lamar is perhaps even more curious. Following the victory of Gaye’s estate over Thicke and Pharrell, Withers was one of many musical artists who criticized the court’s decision, going so far as to suggest that a “groove” shouldn’t be copyrighted. However, Withers’ complaint alleges that Lamar’s song, “I Do This,” is a “direct and complete copy” of his music, specifically 1975’s “Don’t You Want to Stay.”
As a result, he is seeking damages and an injunction barring Lamar’s song from being played.
“Things have just gotten amplified [after the “Blurred Lines” verdict],” said Nelson. “It’s really all about the money.”