High profile copyright cases arising from the music industry are quite common. There are often impressive amounts of money involved because of the commercial value of rights in recorded music. Those rights can be complex, potentially involving rights in the recording itself, performers’ rights and separate copyrights in the music and lyrics.
In addition, there seems to be something peculiar to the nature of music which easily gives rise to claims of plagiarism or copyright infringement.
The latest case concerns the Led Zeppelin hit “Stairway to Heaven”. Follow the link to read the Guardian’s report on the court proceedings in Los Angeles. The claim is that a significant part of the music of the Led Zeppelin number was taken from “Taurus”, a song written by the late Randy Wolfe for his group, Spirit.
There are some similarites with the well known case concerning George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” which was judged to have reproduced the music from the Chiffons’ hit “He’s so fine”. A major difference in this case is that the members of Led Zeppelin deny that they were familiar with the music of “Taurus”.
Copyright infringement need not be intentional and can be completely inadvertent, as was held to be the case with “My Sweet Lord” and still be infringing. On the other hand you can only plagiarise a piece of music if you have actually heard the music, otherwise any similarity would presumably be coincidental.