Artistry and Originality

In 1968, the British band Led Zeppelin was formed. Although their rise to fame as rock artists was noteworthy, it was not without controversy.

In present day, dozens of musical artists and groups have faced multimillion dollar lawsuits over a single song; or more specifically, a single stanza within a song. Led Zeppelin appears to be the “king of copyright”! They didn’t just “borrow” a line or two from a previously recorded piece. They copied many songs from many artists.

What they copied and from whom appears not to matter very much at all to their large fan following. That fact alone seems most striking!

Must of the backlash came from peers in the business who perhaps felt swindled out of their due recognition.

Their song “Bring it on Home” was copied from a song of the very same name by Willie Dixon. “The Lemon Song” borrowed its lyrics from the Howlin’ Wolf’s song called Killing Floor. The line, “I should have quit you a long time ago” is blended with the identical musical score. Led Zeppelin doesn’t appear to even minutely attempt to camouflage the theft of the song. This is a clear example of directly copying an original work.

With the song Dazed and Confused, Led Zeppelin has transformed certain elements of the song. They used different lyrics but maintained the same musical score as Jake Holmes did in his original composition.

The famous “Stairway to Heaven” is their most brilliant example of recombining other elements into an original piece by a competing artist. The instrumental additions, namely guitar solos, add to the length and depth of the musical score. Led Zeppelin recombined elements of the original selection (from the band Taurus), with their own unique musical stylings. The copyright is somewhat veiled and is not near as overt as the Dazed and Confused song.

The band had a long and illustrious career. It certainly created something original enough to please millions of fans worldwide. However, their actions do legally interfere with the original copyright.

Does it matter? I am not sure it does.

In artistry, the experience is what propels the art. Paintings may share a common subject or coloring; a song may be reminiscent of a similar melody; a Broadway musical may be based on a novel. However, the experience is singular and held in time.

The problem seems to lie in the greed or weakness of human spirit. To clarify, let me say that, of course artists want recognition for their creations. This may come through fame and/or monetary gain.

The real work needs to be done in regards to the guidelines that creators should follow to avoid “ripping something off”. Acknowledgement and recognition is the key. If Led Zeppelin, and all the other so-called “rip off” artists simply acknowledged their inspiration (i.e. the forgotten original victims) then fame comes to all. Willie Loman said it best in his “attention must be paid” speech.

Where money is involved, it is, unfortunately, not so simplistic. Greed and artistry do not mesh easily!


Graphic retrieved from

As a final note, if Zed Zeppelin made visible, what without them, would not have been possible, is that not somewhat original?

References by Kirby Ferguson.

Retrieved from




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