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  • Writer's pictureCassandra L. Wilkinson

Alterations to Rock History? Part II

In Part I of this article regarding the Pennsylvania federal court copyright infringement law suit brought by the heirs of songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe (aka California Randy) in Skidmore, et al. v. Led Zeppelin, et al., No. 2:14-cv-03089 (E.D. Pa., May 31, 2014), I discussed the bare bones of the lawsuit and how copyright law will impact the suit. In this installment I will go in depth about the song and the background of the parties involved.
In 1970, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page, while at a stone cottage in Wales named Bron-Yr-Aur, began work on the song "Stairway to Heaven." It was completed at a place called Headley Grange in England. The lawsuit states that:
Defendant Jimmy Paige has stated that he always kept a cassette recorder around and the idea for “Stairway to Heaven” came together from bits of tape music: “I have these pieces, these guitar pieces, that I wanted to put together, I had a whole idea of a piece of music that I really wanted to try and present to everybody and try to come to terms with. Bit difficult really because it started on acoustic, and as you know it goes through to the electric parts. But we had various run-throughs [at Headley Grange] where I was playing the acoustic guitar and jumping up and picking up the electric guitar. Robert was sitting in the corner, or rather leaning against the wall, and as I was routining (sic) the rest of the bank with this idea and this piece, he was just writing. And all of a sudden he got up and started singing, along with another run-through, and he must have had 80% of the words there. ... I had these sections and I knew what order they were going to go in, but it was just a matter of getting everybody to feel comfortable with each gear shift that was going to be coming." [See National Public Radio, Guitar Legend Jimmy Page, June 2, 2003].
The lawsuit claims that California Randy’s heirs say that:
Defendant James Patrick Page is the guitarist and the lead and founding member of the band Led Zeppelin. Page is listed as a writer for the song “Stairway to Heaven.” Page profited from the infringement and exploitation of “Taurus” when Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven” to the public had failed to credit, compensate or remunerate Randy. Page exploited the sound recording of “Stairway to Heaven.”
The song began recording at Island Records’ studio in London in December of 1970, and was completed in 1971. The song was released on an untitled album in 1971 commonly called Led Zeppelin IV or Zoso. It quickly became Led zeppelin’s most famous song, and is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest songs ever written. Parts of “Stairway to Heaven,” instantly recognizable to the music fans across the world, sound almost identical to significant portions of “Taurus.” Any reasonable observer, when comparing “Taurus” and "Stairway to Heaven," must conclude that-at the very least significant portions of the songs are nearly identical.
In the suit there are various quotes from Randy California on the similarities between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven.” In the liner notes for the 1996 reissue of Spirit, he wrote:
People always ask me why "Stairway to Heaven" sounds exactly like "Taurus," which was released two year earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played "Fresh-Garbage" in their live set. The opened up for us on their first American tour.
However, in a 1996 (printed in 1997) interview for Listner Magazine shortly before his death, when asked again he said:
Well, if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment. It’s an exact….I’d say I was a rip-off. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point we me. Maybe some day (sic) their conscience will make them do something about it. I don’t know. There are funny business dealings between record companies, managers, publisher, and artists. But when artists do it to other artists, there’s no excuse for that. I’m mad!
When Jimmy Page did an interview with Brad Tolinski with Greg DiBenedetto, “Page Delves into Led Zeppelin’s Rich Past,” in Guitar World published May 1993, he was quoted as saying:
You mean getting sued? Well, as far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring something fresh to anything that I used. I always made sure to come up with some variation, in fact, I think in most cases; you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case-but in most cases. So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. And Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that – which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn’t get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.
We did, however, take some liberties; I must say [laughs]. But never mind; we did try to do the right thing, it blew up in our faces….
The internet shows numerous examples of Led Zeppelin's past stealing of songs and samplings, some of which have brought other lawsuits. Jimmy Page has never made it a secret and has explained how he crafted songs with bits of others and is quoted as saying in an interview for Light & Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski, “I always tried to bring something fresh to anything I used. In most cases, you would never know what the original source could be. ”
According to the lawsuit, Led Zeppelin has been accused of using a lot of other artists' and songwriters' songs without giving credit or having permission. Below is small list of lawsuits that have been brought against the band. The suit lists additional songs that were allegedly infringed upon but I am only listing the ones that went to court and were settled.

Led Zeppelin SongInfringed SongAuthorResult

Dazed and Confused (1969)Dazed and Confused (1967)Jake HolmesSettled (2012)

Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (1969)Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You (1960)

Anne Bredon

Settled (1980s)

Credit and royalties given to Bredon

How Many More Times (1969)How Many More Times (1959)Howlin' Wolf

Settled (1993)

Credit and royalties given to Wolf

Whole Lotta Love (1969)You Need Love (1962)Willie Dixon

Settled (1985)

Credit and royalties given to Dixon

The Lemon Song (1969)Killing Floor (1966)Howlin' Wolf

Settled (1993)

Credit and royalties given to Wolf

Bring it on Home (1969)Bring in on Home (1963)Willie Dixon

Settled (1972)

Credit and royalties given to Dixon

Boogie with Stu (1975)Oooh My Head (1959)Ritchie ValensLegal action taken: Valens' mother is credited as writer

The Claims for relief that the suit lists is rather specific. The suit's claims read:
(a) Compensatory damages for all losses, together with interest, costs, and delay damages;
(b) Defendants’ profits in an amount according to proof at trial:
(c) Statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 504 given the willfulness of Defendants’ conduct;
(c) Punitive damages on all causes of actions to punish the Defendants for their outrageous and duplicitous conduct, especially those Defendant who are elected public officials; public Offices; and public Organizations;
(d) Exemplary damages to set an example for others;
(e) Equitable relief pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 502 and § 503;
(f) Injunctive and other equitable relief inclusive of but not limited to impoundment, destruction, and halting of sales of the infringing material.
(g) Costs and attorney’s fees and
(h) Such other and further relief as the Court deems just, necessary, and appropriate under the circumstances or allowed by statute.
Will Randy California get his day in court? The attorneys for Led Zeppelin tried to make it not happen but failed; so round one goes to Randy California.
In response to the lawsuit, the defendants challenged the jurisdiction, claiming in a motion to dismiss, "The individual defendants are British citizens residing in England, own no property in Pennsylvania and have no contacts with Pennsylvania, let alone ties sufficient to render them essentially at home here." In response, the plaintiffs amended the lawsuit, placing emphasis on why it should remain in Pennsylvia: "Defendants are subject to specific jurisdiction in this district because they make millions of dollars from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by directly targeting this district for the exploitation of 'Stairway to Heaven' through CD sales, digital downloading, radio and television play, advertising, marketing, concert performances, other performances, licensing, and otherwise targeting resident individuals and businesses to profit off the exploitation of 'Stairway to Heaven.'”
U.S. District Court Judge Juan Sanchez denied the first motion to dismiss or transfer without prejudice, allowing the defendants to file the motion again with respect to the new complaint. The new motion is currenlty pending. We will continue to monitor this suit as it progresses.
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