Speed Reads

Show me the money

Here's the song Led Zeppelin is accused of plagiarizing in 'Stairway to Heaven'

Led Zeppelin

Members of the long-since-disbanded California band Spirit, plus the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy California, are suing Led Zeppelin for a songwriting credit on "Stairway to Heaven." Spirit's 1968 song "Taurus" (listen below) has a guitar riff that's pretty similar to Jimmy Page's iconic opening melody on 1971's "Stairway" and Spirit bass player Mark Andes and California's trust are threatening to block the June re-release of Led Zeppelin IV until California gets credit on the album.

Credit means cash. As I noted Tuesday, credited songwriters get royalties every time one of their songs is played on the radio or in a public place like a bar or roller rink, streamed online, or appears in a film or ad or TV show. "Stairway to Heaven" has already earned at least $562 million in record sales and royalties, according to Portfolio estimates, and California could be eligible for a cut of that. Andes said Page would have heard "Taurus" when Zeppelin performed with Sprit in 1968 and '69.

Zeppelin has settled with a handful of other songwriters for lifting their songs, adding songwriting credits to albums and sharing royalties. Whether California's estate and Andes get any money will be up to lawyer Francis Alexander Malofiy and a U.S. court. In the meantime, you can listen to "Taurus" yourself, or play Bloomberg Businessweek's "Is it Led Zeppelin or Spirit?" game. --Peter Weber