Led Zeppelin became the biggest rock act in the world. They wrote songs based on their influences and some songs even sounded like the songs they were influenced by. From traveling the world, they were also exposed to exotic sounds and as technology got better, to new sounds.
Suddenly, thousands of wannabe guitarists and singers and drummers and bass players started to copy the licks and melodies and beats of the mighty Zep, forming an influential bond with the music, much in the same way, the members of Zep allowed other artists and songs to influence their music and melodies.
And Zeppelin wasn’t just an act with a geographical location. Their music was everywhere and there was no way that any teenager in the 70’s could escape the sounds of the Zep. Fast forward into the mid 80’s and suddenly a lot of bands on record deals had a lot of musical passages in their songs which paid homage to Zeppelin and in some cases too much homage. But Zeppelin never sued. These derivative versions of songs based on Zep cuts actually increased the value of the Zep cuts.
I’ve been listening to some songs recently, and the resemblance to other songs is a beautiful thing to hear. I know that these kinds of similarities are bringing forth a lot of court cases in pop music where a jury is asked to decide what is plagiarism and what isn’t.
In the Cult’s song “Peace Dog”, the middle part section has a similarity which comes from the “Stairway to Heaven” section before the solo section kicks in.
And on the topic of Led Zep, no one can forget Kingdom Come. “Get It On” basically lifted the whole “Kashmir” chord progression, and “What Love Can Be” is similar to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “The Rain Song”. Regardless, Kingdom Come made me want to listen to Led Zeppelin.
Whitesnake broke through in the 80’s on the backs of MTV and a sound that rivalled the Sunset Strip, but when they started off on the blues rock journey, David Coverdale was channelling Led Zeppelin in “Trouble”. Coverdale even looked like Plant and sounded a lot like him on this cut and along with Sykes they brought the Led Zep sound, filling the void for a lot of fans of that music.
And this was okay, to show your influences and pay homage to styles.
But Copyright kept changing and evolving, because the corporations kept pushing for perpetual laws, as they knew that if they lost the copyrights to valuable recordings and songs, they would be losing money.
And by pushing for laws that lasted 70 years after the death of the creator, it also meant that the heirs of the creator would also benefit as a by-product. And the heirs are now taking from the hand that gave them the right, because if copyright terms stayed the same (28 year term (14 years with the option to renew for another 14) or if the artist died before the 28 years, on death), the majority of these court cases would not even exist, because the songs would be in the public domain.
But it was still okay to show your influences and pay homage, because the record labels and publishers still paid the heirs and the artists for their rights, as the labels made 300% more profit due to CD sales. But when the record labels stopped paying, as mp3 ripping and then digital downloads and then streaming took over, suddenly, there was a problem for the artists or the heirs/organisations who owned the copyrights. The payments ceased or became dramatically less.
So with a combination of Copyright law changes and a change to the distribution model, a new situation was created with lawsuit after lawsuit, because every artist or heirs of the artist feels that their work is so original and free from influence, that they must be compensated.
And suddenly it wasn’t okay to show your influences or pay homage. But all progress made in music was to build on what came before.