The longstanding copyright dispute regarding Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” has finally been resolved. After a day of deliberations, a jury in Los Angeles found that the band did not plagiarize Spirit’s song “Taurus”.
The trial, which began back on June 14th, saw the attorneys representing the estate of Spirit founder Randy “California” Wolfe go head-to-head with Zeppelin, accusing them of lifting the Spirit song “Taurus”, which was written and recorded in 1967. In the time between then and the recording of “Stairway to Heaven” in 1971, Zeppelin shared the stage with Spirit. Guitarist Jimmy Page acknowledged that Spirit may have influenced his writing of the song, but called accusations of plagiarism “ridiculous.”
Jury members had much to consider while determining their verdict, as Rolling Stone reports. The main attorney for California’s estate, Francis Malofiy, emphatically represented his plaintiff, telling the court, “This case is about copying. Give. Credit. Where. Credit. is Due.” He also called upon expert witnesses who supported presiding US District Judge R. Gary Klausner’s April findings, saying both “Taurus” and “Stairway” possess “substantial similarity…that is memorable and unique.”
Additionally, Malofiy made it a point to attack Zeppelin members Page and Robert Plant — who both took the stand — claiming they had “a selective memory” and seemed to forget the many interviews they gave in the early ’70s in which they expressed their appreciation for Spirit’s music. He also brought up the fact that Page owned five Spirit albums, including the 1968 self-titled LP which contained “Taurus”, and suggested that, because Page was a seasoned session musician who often played other artists’ music, his ability to pen original material was “compromised.”
Zeppelin’s counsel, Peter Anderson, did his part in defending Page and Plant, repeatedly emphasizing the testimony of musicologist Lawrence Ferrara. The esteemed expert concluded that, aside from comparable elements, “Taurus” and “Stairway” shared “no substantial similarity.”
Anderson also refuted Malofiy’s claims that Zeppelin members had access to Spirit’s recordings. Specifically, he highlighted evidence that “Taurus” was never played at a critical 1970 Spirit concert in Plant’s Birmingham hometown, nor was Plant even in attendance that night. Anderson also argued that Page and Plant’s foggy memory regarding the song’s creation can simply be chalked up to time — it’s been almost 50 years since “Stairway” was first released.
The estate for California was seeking monetary compensation as well as a songwriting credit. According to Malofiy and his economist Dr. Michael Einhorn, the assessed damages totaled “somewhere in the middle” of $10 million in alleged gross profits. Ironically, the lawsuit only came to a head after Zeppelin reissued “Stairway to Heaven” in 2014. Prior to that, the case fell outside the state of limitations.
In a statement issued following the jury’s ruling, Page and Plant said, “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.”
Warner Music also celebrated, saying: “At Warner Music Group, supporting our artists and protecting their creative freedom is paramount. We are pleased that the jury found in favor of Led Zeppelin, re-affirming the true origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands in history, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are peerless songwriters who created many of rock’s most influential and enduring songs.”
Compare the two songs in the video below: