Earlier this year a Los Angeles Court handed down a decision that the rock n’ roll band Led Zeppelin did not breach copyright in their 1971 song ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The song, being arguably their most famous and iconic song, (the staple for guitar playing teenagers) was alleged to have copied the famous flat-picked arpeggio chord progression from a lesser known song (and band) ‘Spirit’ by Taurus. Led Zeppelin argued that the chord progression was so common, that it had been used for hundreds of years, and it was a matter of coincidence that they sounded similar. The jury agreed and the legacy of the song remained.
This case brings to mind another case involving an iconic Australian song, a mainstay of the local pub sing-along, ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work. In February 2010, the Federal Court of Australia found that the song copyrighted another iconic Australian song ‘Kookaburra’. Throughout ‘Down Under’ a flute riff is played, which was found to contain the same harmony and notes as ‘Kookaburra’. Men at Work claimed that it was a coincidence, and they did not have the intention of copying the melody. The Court disagreed and found that the melody of ‘Kookaburra’ and the flute riff played during ‘Down Under’ were substantially similar.
The test for establishing copyright involves a two stage test: the resemblance between the infringing work to the copyrighted work; and the causal connection between the two. Once these two steps have been satisfied, the question then turns to the value of what is taken, rather than the amount. To determine this it will be the facts around the alleged infringement. The circumstances particular to a case is something that would be best discussed with a solicitor, as they will be able to gauge the likelihood of your claim succeeding.
If you suspect that a work you have created has been infringed upon, then it is important to contact a solicitor that knows about copyright law and understands the balance between concept of artistic freedom, and on protecting the rights of an artist.