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, ReutersÂ reports.
The case dates back to 2014Â when Michael Skidmore, a trustee for Wolfe’s estate, suedÂ 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, andÂ Zeppelin reportedly played a medley of songs that included Spirit’s “Fresh-Garbage” ””Â a song that appeared on the same LP side as “Taurus” ””Â on their first U.S. tour.
In his ruling, Klausner did findÂ 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,Â 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 dismissedÂ claims against Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Warner Music Group and stipulated that Skidmore could only collect half of any damagesÂ due toÂ 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 gaveÂ Spirit partial credit for “Stairway to Heaven,” any settlement offerÂ would a “nonstarter.”
A representative for Led Zeppelin declined to comment.