Led Zeppelin Heading to Court Over 'Stairway to Heaven' - Rolling Stone
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Led Zeppelin Heading to Court Over ‘Stairway to Heaven’

Judge rules band’s 1971 classic similar enough to Spirit’s “Taurus” to warrant trial by jury

The ongoing copyright dispute over Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven,” filed by the estate of former Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe (who performed as Randy California), will head to trial, Reuters reports.

The case dates back to 2014 when Michael Skidmore, a trustee for Wolfe’s estate, sued Zeppelin, claiming the band stole the intro to 1971’s “Stairway” from Spirit’s 1968 song, “Taurus.” The two groups played several shows together between 1968 and 1970, and Zeppelin reportedly played a medley of songs that included Spirit’s “Fresh-Garbage” — a song that appeared on the same LP side as “Taurus” — on their first U.S. tour.

In February, the case moved to a federal court in California where Zeppelin’s lawyer asked U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner to rule in their favor without the case going to trial. But on Friday, Klausner ruled that “Stairway” and “Taurus” were similar enough to warrant a hearing in front of a jury. A trial date is set for May 10th in Los Angeles.

In his ruling, Klausner did find that Wolfe’s estate had failed to show that “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” were strikingly similar, and noted that both songs used a common chromatic four-chord progression. But he added, “the similarities here transcend this core structure,” pointing to the opening, descending bass lines of both songs, which are “played at the same pitch, repeated twice, and separated by a short bridge.”

“The Court finds that Plaintiff has demonstrated ‘enough similar protectable expression here that the issue of substantial similarity should [proceed to the jury],'” Klausner wrote, quoting the case Scentsy, Inc. v. Harmony Brands. He added, “What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works … a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.”

Klausner’s ruling also dismissed claims against Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Warner Music Group and stipulated that Skidmore could only collect half of any damages due to a 1967 contract Wolfe signed.

“This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong,” said Skidmore’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy.

Speaking with Pitchfork, Malofiy said, “I don’t believe a jury will be as forgiving as Led Zeppelin’s fans,” adding the band “can still bridge [the] division and give the credit that’s due.” He remained adamant that the case “comes down to a credit” and said that until Zeppelin gave Spirit partial credit for “Stairway to Heaven,” any settlement offer would a “nonstarter.” 

A representative for Led Zeppelin declined to comment.


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