A Stairway to Justice

Stairway to HeavenFinally, a sensible verdict has been handed down in the music world in the recent Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” trial.  After the highly questionable verdict in the “Blurred Lines” case, this new decision is greatly reassuring.

The Spirit “Taurus” lawsuit, based on “a descending chord progression that has been used in songs for 300 years”[1], should never have come before a jury in the first place.

This verdict acknowledges the fact that all music – even all art for that matter- is based to a greater or lesser extent on what came before. Art does not exist in a vacuum. There are only 12 notes in the Western scale and a finite number of chords and rhythms available, especially where pop music is concerned.

Every great artist, composer and songwriter throughout history was influenced by those that came before. Some artists push the envelope more than others, but all are products of their times and build their art on the shoulders of their predecessors.  The influence of Mozart is manifest in the works of Beethoven [2]; David Bowie readily acknowledged the influences on his work [3], as did (or should) Lady Gaga vis-a-vis Madonna [4]. In the case of Robin Thicke (“Blurred Lines”), his acknowledgement of Marvin Gaye as a source of inspiration unfortunately helped lead to his unfavorable verdict.

An artist’s admission of his or her sources of inspiration should not be confused with copyright infringement, which should pertain strictly to a blatant appropriation of substantially the same melody, theme or lyrics. As a society we need to acknowledge and tolerate the fact that all artists are shaped, inspired and influenced by their predecessors to a greater or lesser extent. This is how art is created and how art continually evolves.

Let’s hope this verdict will help usher in a new era of common sense and an atmosphere of artistic freedom where artists are no longer afraid to acknowledge their sources of inspiration without being sued by overzealous plaintiffs who erroneously believe that they alone hold exclusive rights to commonly used musical riffs, devices, sounds and progressions. Such frivolous lawsuits are harmful to society and a travesty of our legal system.


[1] https://www.yahoo.com/music/led-zeppelin-rocks-copyright-case-over-stairway-042332127.html


[2] http://www.academia.edu/9844437/Mozart_s_Influence_on_Beethoven_s_Piano_Sonata_no._5_in_c_minor


[3] http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6836617/david-bowie-lists-his-musical-influences-in-berklee-commencement-address-watch


[4 ]http://www.etonline.com/music/160283_madonna_says_lady_gaga_ripped_off_her_song_in_rolling_stone/


Ron Mendelsohn, June 26, 2016


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