Led Zeppelin will go back to court for a retrial more than two years after winning a suit that alleged the band plagiarized “Stairway to Heaven.” San Francisco’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the jury’s verdict Friday, according to NBC News. Parts of the jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial, the court panel said.
The suit was brought on by Michael Skidmore, trustee of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who recorded under the name Randy California. Skidmore alleged that Zeppelin leaned heavily on a a 38-second-long snippet from “Taurus,” a 1968 Spirit instrumental, for the “Stairway to Heaven” intro. The bands performed together in 1968 and 1969; “Stairway” came out in 1971. The appeals court said it was wrong that the judge in the original trial forbade the plaintiffs from playing “Taurus” for the jury; likewise they were not allowed to hear “Stairway.”
Skidmore’s lawyer Francis Malofiy first filed the suit in 2014. During the trial, he alleged that Jimmy Page might have been influenced by the Mary Poppins song “Chim Chim Cheree” and accused Page and Robert Plant of having “selective memory.” Led Zeppelin’s attorney countered that the chromatic chord progression in question is prevalent in music history, from the 1600s to the Beatles’ “Michelle” and beyond. Both Page and Plant testified that they did not remember ever hearing “Taurus.” After only a day of deliberation, the jury ruled in the band’s favor.
“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” Page and Plant said in a statement at the time. “We appreciate our fans’ support and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
Had Skidmore won, he would have been entitled to a share of “Stairway” for only three years before the lawsuit was filed and those going forward. Malofiy estimated the suit was worth around $40 million. California drowned in 1997 while trying to rescue his son from a rip current in Hawaii.
Malofiy filed his appeal in March 2017. Led Zeppelin filed a cross appeal at the time.