It’s been a rock and roll anthem for decades, but Led Zeppelin’s 1971 song “Stairway to Heaven” is being hit with a plagiarism lawsuit more than 40 years after it was recorded. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the iconic hard rock hit is being targeted by a lawyer representing deceased Spirit guitarist Randy California, who claimed Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page lifted “Stairway’s” famous opening riff from a Spirit instrumental.
Spirit, a band best known for their 1968 song “I Got a Line on You”, toured with Zeppelin in 1968 and 1969 (Zeppelin opened for them!) and released the song in question — “Taurus” — in 1967. And in a 1997 interview, California was quoted as saying “Stairway to Heaven” was a “rip-off” of his song.
“The guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?'” he told Listener magazine. California died in 1997, and the surviving band members waited for decades to take action due to financial reasons, but the timing is interesting as Zeppelin has a Led Zeppelin IV reissue in the works.
You can listen to a mash-up of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” here.
Check out these other surprising songs that have been the subject of plagiarism lawsuits.
“Ghostbusters” Theme, Ray Parker, Jr.
Who ya gonna call? For Huey Lewis, it was his lawyer. In 1984, the popular singer busted Ray Parker Jr. for his Oscar nominated “Ghostbusters” theme, alleging that it infringed on the copyright of the Huey Lewis and the News song “I Want a New Drug.” The songwriters settled out of court, but things got tricky when Lewis ran his mouth about the lawsuit on a VH1 special, which was a breach of the confidentiality agreement. MTV revealed that Parker later sued Lewis for publicly discussing the suit. Whoops.
Listen to “Ghostbusters” vs. “I Want a New Drug” here.
“Blurred Lines,” Robin Thicke
It was the biggest hit of 2013, but by the end of the year Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” got hit with a messy lawsuit from Marvin Gaye’s family over the similarities between the song and Gaye’s classic, “Got To Give It Up.” In early 2014, Billboard reported that Gaye’s family reached a settlement with Sony/ATV over the complicated legal matter, which was preceded by a preemptive lawsuit filed by Thicke and his collaborators T.I. and Pharrell Williams. The copyright lines were further blurred for this song when Bridgeport Music claimed that “Blurred Lines” illegally sampled Funkadelic’s song “Sexy Ways.”
Listen to “Blurred Lines” vs. “Got To Give It Up” here.
“The Old Man Down the Road,” John Fogerty
And here’s a strange one. In 1993, former Creedence Clearwater Revival singer John Fogerty went to court over copyright law for the CCR song “Run Through the Jungle,” a song he actually penned. According to Mentalfloss, Fogerty’s 1985 solo hit “The Old Man Down the Road” (another song he wrote) was deemed by CCR’s old record label as “basically ‘Run Through the Jungle’ with different words.” While the singer-songwriter was accused of s plagiarizing his own song, the court determined the two songs weren’t similar enough to be considered for copyright infringement. Fogerty later faced the U.S. Supreme Court to get his more than $1 million in legal fees reimbursed — and he won that case, too.
Listen to “The Old Man Down the Road” here and “Run Through the Jungle” here.