Why Filipinos Should Care the Led Zeppelin won the “Stairway to Heaven” Case

Elpidio V. Peria
3 July 2016



from http://www.ledzeppelinautographs.net

While most of us Pinoys were recently preoccupied with the news of our incoming President and his appointments, it may have zipped past our attention that last June 23, 2016, the music magazine Rolling Stone reported that, in a jury trial in the US, the 70s band Led Zeppelin was ruled not to have copied the iconic song “Stairway to Heaven” from an earlier alleged version of that song, from a largely unknown group Taurus and its song “Taurus”.

I listened to both songs in Youtube recently and it was somewhat unexpected that listening to “Stairway to Heaven” transported me back in time in the early 80s when I stayed with my aunt’s house in Quezon City and all of us cousins living in the house hummed and closed our eyes while mimicking the playing of the guitar and blasting the speakers of the stereo component loud on that song, but going back to my point, there is actually an uncanny similarity between the two songs – “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” – especially at their opening parts, if you dear reader may take the time, listen to the 41st second of the “Taurus” song when the guitar playing starts to come in and that part is recognizably similar to the “Stairway to Heaven” sound. Recognizable, to those who lived in the 70s and 80s, I would suppose, and for those millennials who are into classic 70s rock.

Now, why should Filipinos, who generally are unaware of, and more often than not, do not care about, copyright, should at least sit up in attention with this case?

For one, it’s good that Led Zeppelin won because if they lost, then the global music industry would be destabilized by copycat infringement suits where millions of dollars in damages will be paid by the famous to those who will allege that their work has been copied. This would impact on the prices of music that usually are downloaded through streaming sites now, and those sold in record bars, if they still exist, which some malls still do, but they have become noticeably smaller, it seems.

What’s more, it drives home the point that creative works, are largely products of the imagination and the things artists and all of us who are not famous create are largely derived from things that came before or from those that we have seen earlier or heard and mixed with our own musings or the workings of our creative or just hyper-active, mind.

Mark Twain said as much in a letter to Helen Keller as reported by books and reading website Brainpickings :

xxx…For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.xxx

But of course, copyright law has a different take on this matter, especially now that, in sec. 173 the Philippine Intellectual Property Code, there are stricter rules on what derivative works are, and they are either :

(a) Dramatizations, translations, adaptations, abridgments, arrangements, and other alterations of literary or artistic works; and
(b) Collections of literary, scholarly or artistic works, and compilations of data and other materials which are original by reason of the selection or coordination or arrangement of their contents.

Thus, any other alteration or collection of various creative works, even compilations of data and other material, which are not authorized by the copyright owner can be seen as infringement or illegal copies in simple layman terms, of these protected works.

Fair use principles of copyright though, may exempt some of these acts, but there are specific factual circumstances before fair use can be invoked, in self-defense.

Anyway, these things we will take up later in another post. Suffice it to say that eventually, this kind of case, the Led Zeppelin case, will impact the way people mix various things from various sources –online or not, copyrighted or not. They have a term for the things that people remix, in copyright law journals – user-generated content, but, let’s wait some more for cases here in the Philippines or in the US that may emerge dealing with those content and hopefully that will give us a chance to explain these things eventually.


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