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Led Zeppelin cleared of Stairway to Heaven plagiarism case
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Led Zeppelin cleared of Stairway to Heaven plagiarism case

by Stephen Charlton2016/06/24

On Thursday, Led Zeppelin were cleared of allegations that they plagiarised the opening chords of Stairway to Heaven. After a weeklong hearing in a California courtroom, an eight-person jury found that the Led Zeppelin classic was not intrinsically similar to Taurus by Los Angeles band Spirit.

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant release statement

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and frontman Robert Plant share the song’s writing credit. They were present for the verdict and made a joint statement afterwards:

“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favour, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years.”

It’s understandable that they’re pleased with the jury, as Stairway to Heaven earned an estimated $562 million for the pair over the years.

Trustee for Randy Wolfe launched Stairway to Heaven lawsuit

Taurus was released in 1968, three years before the release of Stairway to Heaven. The case was brought to the court by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Randy Wolfe, the writer of Taurus. Wolfe, aka Randy California, never sought damages during his lifetime, although he did suggest that Zeppelin took inspiration from the song.

Skidmore’s legal team asserted that Led Zeppelin heard the Spirit instrumental track in 1970 when the bands played a show together in Birmingham. Spirit bassist Mark Andes testified at the trial that he played a round of snooker with Plant after the gig. Plant in turn stated he had no memory of the night, adding that in the “hubbub and chaos”, it’s not surprising he didn’t recall a one-off interaction four decades ago. The singer also explained that a serious car accident that occurred while travelling home from the performance also affected his memory, leaving him and his wife with head injuries and the windshield of his Jaguar “buried” in his face.

Jury finds Led Zeppelin tune is similar, but not substantially so

Led-Zeppelin-Stairway-to-Heaven-copyright

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page onstage in the heyday of Led Zeppelin.

Plant might have saved himself the time explaining about the crash, as the jury rejected the suggestion that Plant and Page were not familiar with Taurus, as they would have had access to it. Nonetheless, after listening to the two songs for a final time, the jury took just half an hour to decide in favour of Page and Plant. They found that while the Zeppelin tune had similar elements to Taurus, the similarity was not substantial enough to warrant damages.

Plant and Page’s team asserted that the chord progression found in Stairway to Heaven was too common to be copyrighted. The jury heard testimony from that the progression had in fact been found in popular music for the past three centuries.

A popular myth about the origins of Stairway to Heaven was busted at the trial. Many believed that Page penned the song by the fireside at a remote Welsh cottage known as Bron-Yr-Aur. Instead, Page revealed that the song was created at the Headley Grange estate in Hampshire.

Page and Plant’s bank accounts aren’t completely safe yet however. Skidmore intends to appeal the verdict, his lawyer Francis Malofiy stated, although the ground for the appeal are not clear yet. One possible point of contention is that Judge Gary Klausner did not allow certain takes of Taurus to be played. The case was instead decided upon the basis of the sheet music deposited with the US Copyright Office.

 

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About The Author
Stephen Charlton
Stephen Charlton is a musician and journalist based in Melbourne, Australia.

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