Stairway To Heaven
by guest Blogger Bob Lefsetz
So this is what it takes to get Led Zeppelin back together.
I was getting worried, I figured this would be a slam dunk, that the jury would come back in an hour or two and let Robert and Jimmy off the hook. The fact that they didn’t showed they were thinking about it.
That’s what it’s come down to, eight nobodies weighing in on the provenance of rock and roll.
But where there’s a hit, there’s a writ. And let’s be honest, Zeppelin has nicked songs before. But seemingly the only person who wanted Spirit to win this case was Randy California’s attorney, the public believed it a bridge too far, don’t mess with the canon, our history, what we live for.
Did Robert and Jimmy tell the truth?
Damned if I know, but I do know someone who lied on the stand in a well-known music industry case. And if you believe selective omission is the same as a lie, well…
Then again, musicians were never known for their honesty, otherwise why would they keep firing managers and exhibiting duplicitous behavior that might deliver short term results, but long term penalties.
Are the tracks similar?
Is it infringement?
Well, you’ve got an arcane copyright law that doesn’t square with reality. KInd of like the DMCA and YouTube. Washington and the legal system are always a step behind, and if you look to them to solve your problems you’re gonna waste a lot of time and money and probably end up with a less than satisfactory result. Meaning, the end of the YouTube “value gap” will come from negotiation, not legislation.
And music, despite being made on computers, is not zeros and ones. It cannot be stuck in a framework, evaluated by a machine. It’s amorphous and alive and that’s its appeal.
So chalk one up for the creative community, which believed after the “Blurred Lines” case that everything was up for grabs.
But it had gone too far. That Sam Smith song is not “I Won’t Back Down,” unless you believe that Petty tune is also one of many.
Everybody’s too afraid.
Then again, these same rightsholders killed sampling, changing the trajectory of hip-hop, and have also played whac-a-mole with reuse.
But we don’t live in a vacuum. Nothing’s truly original. We’re a sum of our influences.
But where’s the line?
But it’s been pushed back.
Yet the real revelation at the trial was how little money “Stairway” actually made. The performers’ accountant said Page earned $615,000 and Plant $532,000 since 2011, Rhino said the song grossed $3 million and netted $868,000 in the same period.
That’s not tech money. Maybe not chump change, but nowhere near the $60 million the plaintiff’s expert alleged.
You see there’s just not that much money in music. Much less than we believe. We think if you’re famous, you’re rich, but this is patently untrue. Of course, the Zeppelin boys had other income from their catalog, they did well, but not as well as they did in the seventies, before financiers raped and pillaged and techies became the new rock stars.
This trial brought rock back to earth. Pulled off the scrim and illustrated that not only are its players old, they care about money. Remember when Zeppelin flew back to England after their Madison Square Garden payment was stolen? They showed up here.
Then again, it’s rumored they stole that money themselves.
Then again, it’s about dignity and reputation.
Feel free to steal again. Know that every juror does not see the famous as a deep pocket. Know that the line is truly blurry.
And if you want to get rich…
DO SOMETHING ELSE!
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