I once met Robert Plant in a SoHo bodega, around 2am. Coincidentally, I had just been to a midnight screening of Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, a film named for a song made famous by Led Zeppelin (though the song was notably absent from the film's soundtrack) and which was at one time the target of a copyright infringement suit by the composition's original author, Jake Holmes. Plant and I were waiting on line to buy some munchies, and as we stood there in the painfully fluorescent light, a Chuck Berry tune played on the radio. "I wonder what happened to him," Plant remarked to me. I responded that I thought he was in jail for filming women in the bathroom of a restaurant he owned (turns out I wasn't quite right, though there was both a class action lawsuit and some incriminating evidence seized from his home). We spent another few minutes chatting, then we paid up and he went back to his hotel across the street to continue doing whatever rock legends do in their hotel rooms in the wee small hours, and I went out to rejoin my friends, who had been waiting for me on the sidewalk. This is how I brush with greatness – under punishing lights while waiting to buy a granola bar.
This week, I've had the chance to bask in Zeppelin's reflected glory once again, by writing an article for The Daily Beast about their latest copyright infringement suit. This time, a representative of a long-defunct band called Spirit is claiming that the iconic opening riff to "Stairway to Heaven" was ripped off from their tune "Taurus." As I discuss in my article, this claim has some compelling aspects at first glance, but it's actually much ado about nothing, and a finding of infringement against the band would ultimately help to consolidate power and ownership over global musical culture even further by ensuring that only the major labels can afford the litigation risk entailed by releasing new music.
While I don't get deep into the copyright weeds (discussing legal technicalities at issue, such as whether the plaintiff has standing, or whether the riff in question is representative of the master vs. the publishing right), I think I do a pretty good job of breaking down the musical and legal contours of the case, and discussing the broader implications if the plaintiffs prevail. You can check out the article here.