One of most iconic rock and roll introductions of all time happens to be the 1971 intro to Led Zeppelin’s timeless tune: “Stairway to Heaven.” But did bandmates Jimmy Page and Robert Plant rip the tune off from the 1967 instrumental “Taurus,” which was composed by Randy Wolfe of the band Spirit? A jury will decide in the months to come.
The pair of record-setting rockers will find themselves in court in a copyright infringement lawsuit that is scheduled to take place on May 10th of this year.
The original complaint was filed by Michael Skidmore, who’s the trustee for Randy California (Randy Wolfe), the man who composed “Taurus” for the band Spirit. The complaint alleges that Page “may have been” creatively inclined to write the intro to his tune after hearing the song while the two groups were on tour together during the late 60s.
But Page and Plant are standing firm. They are refuting the claim, stating that Wolfe was merely a hired gun and as a result does not have a viable claim. What’s more, the duo contend that the chords Wolf used were cliché, and therefore were not subject to the intellectual property protection afforded by a copyright.
A judge has disagreed with them, however, citing that there is a “substantial” amount of similarity with the two songs, in particular during the first two minutes of runtime.
The judge said that these similarities are “arguably the most recognizable and important segments” of the song and share commonality enough to be decided by a jury.
“While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,” Judge Klausner wrote. “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.”
Meanwhile, Warner Music Group and Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones saw the claims against them dismissed. In addition, if the lawsuit is won, the damages cannot exceed 50% due to the contract Wolfe was under at the time.
You can look the case up at: Skidmore v Led Zeppelin et al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 15-03462.