Last year’s “Blurred Lines” copyright trial, in which a jury ruled that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke had to cough up $7.3 million for their hit song channeling the same vibe as a 1977 Marvin Gaye composition, rattled musicians. People wondered whether the ruling would set a dangerous precedent for what songwriters could and couldn’t use as inspiration.
They needn’t have worried, apparently. Today a federal court jury, asked to weigh in on a similar case of alleged plagiarism against Led Zeppelin, decided that the legendary band did not steal its famous “Stairway to Heaven” opening chord progression from an instrumental song by Spirit and would not have to pay the latter party anything. The decision sticks a note of finality (legally, at least) to a debate that rock fans have been having for some time now.
It also—quite dramatically—muddles the implications of the ”Blurred Lines” verdict. In both suits, big artists were accused of unabashedly lifting musical patterns from fellow artists; but one case ended with a multi-million-dollar payout, and the other with no consequence at all. Copyright infringement cases in music are messy to begin with, and the contradiction between the “Blurred Lines” verdict and today’s Zeppelin one both ensures unpredictability in future cases and leaves the music industry dazed and confused.