Your TV Idea Or Mine? Take A Stairway To Heaven To Find Out

Led Zeppelin stole from the ‘60s group Spirit? And did “The Voice” steal from “American Idol”?

A recent court case has the estate of the composer of “Taurus” claiming “Stairway To Heaven” is in violation of copyright laws.

Creatives have been borrowing from each other for centuries. But what constitutes actual harm -- business, artistic, or otherwise? How much of the original art moved to the new effort? This is always the blurry part.

Lawsuits over music copyright have been going on for more than a century. Before pop/rock, blues and jazz musicians were always taking bits from one another -- sometime abiding by copyright rules, sometimes not.

Many reality competition TV shows have come and gone. And just as with music lawsuits, TV shows have had their share of lawsuits  and angry words exchanged. Good news: Both “Voice” and “Idol” have made millions  -- or is it billions?



TV has always looked to riff on (or rip off?) what has gone on previously -- especially when it can’t find anything new. Can’t more than one TV network have a singing competition series?

Versus the singular competitive efforts of an “American Idol” contestant, “The Voice” put singers into teams, with judges advising on songs and singing styles.  But in both shows, you always had judging and an ultimate winner.

And it’s not just TV versus TV; sometime it's radio versus TV. In 2003, radio jock Howard Stern complained a short-lived “Are You Hot?” reality show on ABC was his idea.

Reportedly, “Taurus” composer Randy Wolfe, who passed away in 1997, didn’t really mind the Led Zeppelin song was “similar.” Wolfe’s estate thinks otherwise.

Violating the copyright of a song comes down to this: Is it “substantially similar”? The opening notes of “Taurus” and “Heaven” are in fact very close. But the rest of the song? Not so much.

With the 15-year-old  “American Idol” now ended, ask yourself what would have happened if longtime judges Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul had decided to turn their chairs around, so they didn’t see what contestants looked like?

Maybe “The Voice” would have had to try something else.

And what if “Voice” contestants were not just talented, but had some bite in their remarks at judges -- perhaps a flashback Cowell-ism: “Sorry, Adam. You are just awful as a judge!"

Think ahead: The-fast growing digital media world will need much more content, as consumers’ diverse entertainment appetite shows no bounds. Coming up, expect more complications -- and lawsuits.

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