Music plagiarism charges discredit artist creativity 

Roughly 8 months ago, the psychadelic rock band Tame Impala posted a screenshot on their Instagram of a messege threatening a lawsuit from Samm Culley of the band Skull Snaps over their song “Eventually.” Culley claimed that a drum sample from their 1973 song “It’s a New Day” was taken by the band, without his permission, and used in “Eventually.” Having listened to both songs, there is a certain similarity that I can’t deny. But was the drum sample intentionally lifted by Kevin Parker – the creative force behind Tame Impala, as well as it’s frontman and used in his own song? It seems doubtful to me. Now another case, involving one of the most famous songs of all time, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is also being called into question for its originality. A representative for the band Spirit is suing Led Zeppelin for allegedly stealing the opening chords from their song “Taurus.” Furthermore, Spirit claims that the two songs evoke the same feeling and atmosphere.

It’s this claim that confuses me. Can an artist actually justify taking legal action against another artist because their song brings out a similar feeling in the listener? In essence, that is like saying that if both a Beyoncé song and a Kanye West song makes me want to dance, there is probably some sort of legal infringement tak- ing place, and one of the artists should consult their musicologist immediately.

How is any artist ever supposed to write a song, book or script without it having some similarities to another song, book or script? It’s become increasingly difficult these days to come up with something truly original, and, in most cases, the artist probably doesn’t realize that what they created wasn’t entirely as new as they first thought. There is too much content out there for any one person to consume, let alone to scour it for some vague similarities to anything else that exists.

Because I personally respect Tame Impala and Kevin Parker so much, I have to assume he had no idea that the beat he used in a very small segment of his song was anything like that of Skull Snaps’ song. Further, it’s unlikely that he heard the drum sample on that specific song anyway, as there has been evidence that it was used by several other artists before “Eventually” was even released. At the very least, Parker was a secondhand thief.

In the case regarding Led Zeppelin, however, there could be reason to believe they stole the opening chords: Led Zeppelin and Spirit toured together in the 1960s, making it hard to argue that Led Zeppelin had never heard the song “Taurus” before.

Alhtough I’m no musical expert, the two chord progressions do sound remarkably simi- lar. As such, I would be hard pressed to argue that Led Zeppelin took absolutely no inspiration from the band that they toured with.

It’s interesting to consider whether these cases have more to do with an artist’s bruised ego than the actual music itself. Who has ever heard of the band Spirit before? Who hasn’t heard of the band Led Zeppelin? It’s not unbelievable that a relatively unknown artist would want a modi- cum of recognition, even if they don’t actually win any money.

Cassidy Neuner ’18 (neuner1@stolaf.edu) is from Carmel, Calif. She majors in history and political science.

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