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Classic Copyright Cases – Whole Lotta Love

April 27, 2021, By

When it comes to copyright infringement in the music industry, one of the most famous examples is Spirit’s long-running claim against Led Zeppelin in relation to the songs Taurus and Stairway to Heaven respectively (you can read more about that here). But Led Zeppelin have also found themselves up against Willie Dixon, one of the foremost blues musicians of the 20th century.

Dixon wrote the lyrics to Muddy Waters’ 1963 song You Need Love and, following some earlier beef with Led Zeppelin over another piece of music, took legal action against the band again in 1985 in respect of their 1969 track Whole Lotta Love. Dixon claimed that the lyrics to Whole Lotta Love had copied his earlier song and he wanted retribution in the form of songwriting credits and some of that sweet rock cash money.

This was one of the first times Robert Plant, the band’s lead singer, had contributed lyrics to a Led Zeppelin song and clearly he was not off to a good start. As always, have a listen to both songs but this time just focus on the lyrics. It is fair to say that there is a palpable similarity.

Led Zeppelin obviously thought so and ended up settling the case for an undisclosed (and most likely hefty) sum, with Dixon receiving songwriting credits on Whole Lotta Love. Plant was unphased by the ordeal and later said:

I just thought, ‘Well, what am I going to sing?’ That was it, a nick. Now happily paid for. At the time, there was a lot of conversation about what to do. It was decided that it was so far away in time and influence that … Well, you only get caught when you’re successful. That’s the game.”

It was a gutsy move by Plant given that the songs were only seven years apart – perhaps not quite as far away in time and influence as he had initially thought.

The case just goes to show how easily copyright infringement cases in the music industry can escalate and it has only become worse in recent years with some very questionable judgments having been handed down. Having said that, Led Zeppelin’s more recent victory over Spirit has the potential to set a precedent for a new attitude towards dubious copyright claims.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a copyright infringement action or think someone else has copied your work, or even if you just want advice regarding ownership of material and contracts/licences, here at Briffa our specialist solicitors are always on hand to help. Please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 72886003 for a free consultation.

Written by Alex Fewtrell, Solicitor

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