A California jury has ruled that the members of Led Zeppelin did not plagiarize the opening bars of their hit “Stairway to Heaven,” a seminal song in rock history.
The estate of Randy Wolfe, the deceased guitarist of the band Spirit, had filed the federal copyright infringement lawsuit in 2014. It argued that guitar intro was stolen from the opening notes of Spirit’s song “Taurus” — which came out before Stairway. At the time, Wolfe was performing under the pseudonym Randy California.
The case was originally filed in Philadelphia but was moved to Los Angeles the following year, as we reported.
The Two-Way has gone into depth on this case. You can compare the two opening melodies below:
As NPR’s Andrew Limbong tells our Newscast unit: “After a trial which included testimonies from all of the living members of Led Zeppelin, the jury sided with the more famous rock band.”
TheWrap, reporting from the courtroom, says “the jury found that, while Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant did have access to ‘Taurus’ before writing ‘Stairway,’ the songs are not substantially similar.” The entertainment news site says “there was no discernible reaction from Page and Plant as the verdict was read.”
The complaint filed by Wolfe’s estate had said Led Zeppelin members were fans of Spirit. It says they attended Spirit shows, where the band played “Taurus,” and also performed together several times. They were friendly with the Spirit band members and on at least one occasion met at a pub to play snooker.
“Randy California deserves writing credit for ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and to take his place as an author of Rock’s greatest song,” the complaint reads.
In closing arguments, a defense lawyer said that the band members should not be liable for damages because “the delicately descending pattern is a commonplace ‘musical building block’ that is in the public domain and thus not legally protectable,” City News Service reports.
Prior to the verdict, the jury requested to “to hear recordings of both songs played on an acoustic guitar again. They were played twice, and the jury returned to deliberations,” The Los Angeles Times reports. The jury returned just 15 minutes later with its unanimous decision.
The Times carried a joint statement from Led Zeppelin band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant:
“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. … We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”