Led Zeppelin Found Not Guilty in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Case
The decision comes after more than a week of deliberations between the group’s lawyers and those representing Spirit member Randy California, whose 1968 instrumental composition “Taurus” includes a similar chord progression as Zeppelin’s 1971 song. (The lawsuit used California’s birth name of Randy Wolfe.)
California died in 1997, but his former bandmate, Mark Andes filed a lawsuit through California’s estate in 2014, seeking to prevent the reissue of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, which includes “Stairway to Heaven,” and to have the songwriting credits for the song changed.
The jury noted that while California owned the copyright to “Taurus,” and that Led Zeppelin’s members had heard the song, they said that “there was no substantial similarity in the extrinsic elements of ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. The jury made the decision less than half an hour after listened to both songs again.
After a few delays, and a change of venue, the trial started last week. Guitarist Jimmy Page was the first to take the stand, where he revealed the massive size of his music collection. After being questioned by the plaintiff’s attorney, the guitarist noted the influence of “Chim Chim Cher-ee,” from the 1964 movie Mary Poppins, on “Stairway to Heaven.”
For their defense, Zeppelin called a music expert to the stand who explained that the chord progressions used in both “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” have been around for 300 years. John Paul Jones, who’s not named as a defendant in the case, said he was present when Page first played him “Stairway” on acoustic guitar for him.
Singer Robert Plant — a defendant along with Page — was called to the stand and said he didn’t remember being in a club the night Spirit performed, even though the plaintiff noted that he and Page had shared a concert bill with Spirit at one point. He also said he didn’t remember meeting the band’s bass player that night, even though the bassist said he did. (Zeppelin used to cover Spirit’s “Fresh Garbage,” a song from the band’s debut album and from the same LP that includes “Taurus,” in concert in the early days.)
Page and Plant released a statement following the verdict. “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,” they wrote. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
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