Articles Posted in Attorney misconduct

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guitar boyYou’ll recall that the estate of Randy California (né Randy Craig Wolfe, guitarist and songwriter from the 70’s art-rock band, Spirit) has sued Led Zeppelin in Pennsylvania, claiming that Zeppelin copped the opening guitar riff and chord progression from Wolfe’s song, Taurus, to create perhaps the most iconic of all rock songs, Stairway to Heaven. Why sue in Pennsylvania, you may ask?

That’s also the question that Led Zeppelin asked district judge Juan Sanchez. Zep’s first response out of the gate was to move to dismiss the suit, or at a minimum to transfer the venue to the Central District of California – by consent of the defendants  – where at least one of the defendants (Warner Music Group Corp.) resides. Led Zeppelin, the band, as well as the individual members of the group, is represented by Helene Freeman, of NYC’s venerable Phillips Nizer, and local counsel, Michael Eidel of Fox Rothschild. Continue reading

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The lawsuit filed against Led Zeppelin (May 31, 2014, U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania) by the estate of the late Randy California (of West Coast art rock band, Spirit) – forty-something years later – alleges that Led Zeppelin stole the iconic guitar figure and chord progression that opens “Stairway to Heaven” from a Spirit song written by California (né Randy Wolfe) called “Taurus”. Here, listen for yourself: “Taurus”; “Stairway”.

staircaseTo prevail, California’s estate must prove that Zep copied the prior work and that there is a substantial similarity between the two songs. Copying may be proved circumstantially based on evidence of access and similarity, and there’s an inverse relationship between the amount of access and similarity required: the more access, the less similarity needs to be shown. Similarly, the more similarity exists, the less access must be shown. “Stairway” was first recorded in 1970, and it’s well-documented that Zep had access to “Taurus” through Spirit’s live set, as the bands often performed together in the late-60s. In addition to copying, “substantial similarity” must be shown. “Substantial” means the copying is substantial in degree, as measured qualitatively or qualitatively. “Similar” means that the copy sounds similar to the ears of an ordinary member of the listening audience. Yes, in both songs there is a slow, descending chromatic melody against a common chord progression through the first four measures of each, though the Spirit tune is harmonized very differently from Zeppelin’s, and the guitar phrase in “Stairway” has an elegance lacking in “Taurus”. Yes, there are definite similarities but are they “substantial”?

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