Copies, plagiarism and versions are the basis of artistic creation and also of the problems of some artists.
Like so many other things in the world of art, the modification, interpretation, version, inspiration of/in another's work, is more a matter of author, form and result than the fact itself. Artists have been drawing inspiration from other people's works forever...
I read with my morning coffee this article by the usually well-informed Diego A. Manrique, who explains the trajectory of trials of the group Led Zeppelin and more specifically of its vocalist Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, who have always been involved in a multitude of accusations of copying or plagiarism by blues, folk and other artists.
Here you can see a news about the matter published by El País: Jimmy Page: the greatest looter of other people's songs and how he dirty Led Zeppelin's career with blues and folk plagiarism.
First of all, it occurs to me to contribute a reflection on the role of the "song", without a doubt the most important form within the so-called "popular music". The song: that formula that explains in a relatively short duration a story comparable to that of a short novel and combines it with a melody that emphasizes and -in some cases- makes what is sung memorable, has been one of the most frequent "artistic objects" in popular culture since time immemorial, including contributing to information in times when the media were scarce and not accessible. Examples of this social function of disclosure are in the figure of the "troubadour" of the Middle Ages in Europe or its equivalent in sub-Saharan Africa: the "jeli" or "griot". Both characters traveled and told news and events through poetry set to music, obviously fictionalized and adapted to the environment.
Returning to the topic of plagiarism, it must be said that melodies have always traveled from one place to another, being recreated or changed, both in the text and in the music in each performance. When it comes to defining the concepts of version, arrangement or any other modification of a musical theme, we enter very elastic territories. What is a version? What is an arrangement on a specific theme? We could ask ourselves if so many blues songs are not the same blues with different lyrics, or if "It's now or never" by Elvis Presley has a lot or a little to do with "O sole mio", composed in 1898 by the Italians G. Capurro and E. DiCapua or…an endless list.
A separate problem is the unquestionable right of an author to receive compensation for the use of his work. Rewarding authorship is a simple matter of justice, although sometimes the problem is finding the author of a composition. Someone wrote a melody and a letter 80 years ago, that song triumphed in a specific region, it becomes a popular theme, which is re-performed by multiple artists in all the celebrations, but there is no record of who was the composer. And that makes it impossible for that person to receive compensation. In other cases, it simply happens that the author made a "bad deal", in the case of New Orleans pianist and singer: Edwin Bocage, (photo above with Dr John), who sold in 1956 for -in his own words- "...a small lucky if you were a young black kid from New Orleans…” the rights to his song “I'm Wise” to Little Richard's manager, who renamed it “Slippin' and Slidin'” recording it quite successfully. That same song was later recorded by a multitude of artists, including John Lennon, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties... for Little Richard.
And to finish illustrating the concept version or copy of a song and returning to the Led Zeppelin subject, let's see the journey through various interpretations of a song called (in different spellings) Zeyel Meyel. Originally from the Timbuktu region, it seems to be traditional, that is, by an "unknown author", forming part of the repertoire of both the Tuareg culture groups of Mali, and those of the Gnawa affiliation of Morocco and Algeria: