Led Zeppelin ‘Stairway’ Verdict Upheld in New Ruling

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Led Zeppelin has won the latest case regarding their alleged copyright infringement of “Stairway to Heaven.” On Monday (March 9), California’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals again ruled in favor of the band, upholding the 2016 jury verdict in the much-publicized trial. In the long-running case, Led Zeppelin was accused of lifting the music for “Stairway” from the band Spirit’s song “Taurus.”

It’s good news for Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and company: the court has ruled that Zep did not violate the Spirit copyright.  A jury had, in 2016, ruled in favor of the British quartet, prompting an appeal from parties representing Spirit.

The March 9 court ruling noted, “We have never extended copyright protection to just a few notes. Instead we have held that ‘a four-note sequence common in the music field’ is not the copyrightable expression in a song.”

Our original coverage is below:

A Federal appeals court in San Francisco agreed on June 10, 2018, that Led Zeppelin will need to defend the favorable verdict they received in a widely covered 2016 copyright case for “Stairway to Heaven.” On September 28, 2018, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals overturned the 2016 court verdict that had ruled in favor of the band. The Federal appeals court agreed on June 10; a new hearing before an 11-judge panel will be held in San Francisco in late September 2019.

Led Zeppelin won the original case on June 23, 2016, in a trial by jury in a Los Angeles court.

The original suit was filed in 2014 on behalf of the estate of Randy California – legal name Randy Wolfe – of the 1960s classic rock band Spirit. The copyright infringement suit claimed that the opening melody of “Stairway to Heaven” was taken from “Taurus,” an instrumental song written by guitarist and songwriter California/Wolfe that was released on the band’s self-titled 1968 debut album, three years before “Stairway” went public on Zeppelin’s fourth album, known as Led Zeppelin IV.

The plaintiff’s case tried to establish that Zep guitarist Jimmy Page and/or singer Robert Plant– the credited writers of “Stairway” – had heard “Taurus.” No firm connection was made despite the fact that Page admitted that he heard and liked Spirit’s second and third albums, Zeppelin had played some of Spirit’s song “Fresh-Garbage” (off the third album) live in a medley, the bands had shared bills in 1968 and ’69, and Plant had been present at a 1970 club show in his hometown of Birmingham, England by Spirit.

Listen to Spirit’s “Taurus”

Over five days in June 2016, Page, Plant and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones gave testimony that tried to loosen any connection. On the trial’s final day, Page testified: “The original concept I had was for a piece of music that would basically go through many moods and changes. Robert and I were so in sync with musical composition at that time. All the time the thing is accelerating and getting more intense.”

Related: Full details of Best Classic Bands’ coverage of the 2016 trial

From Bloomberg News September 28, 2018 report: “The trust of Wolfe… argued the trial was unfair because the jury could only hear an acoustic rendition of ‘Taurus,’ instead of the recorded version. Copyright protection at the time of composition only applied to the sheet music.

“The appeals court’s ruling focused on the judge’s instructions to the jury and rulings about evidence.”

In the June 10, 2018, decision, the federal appeals court ruled that the jury should have been allowed to hear the recorded version of the Spirit song.

Songwriting plagiarism lawsuits have been ongoing factor in the music business for decades.

In 1976, for instance, the copyright holders of the Chiffons hit “He’s So Fine” sued George Harrison, claiming that his #1 hit “My Sweet Lord” had ripped off the melody from the earlier song. Harrison lost the complicated case, and the general conclusion was that he unconsciously plagiarized the tune.

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6 Comments so far

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  1. GolfDoc
    #1 GolfDoc 30 September, 2018, 09:17

    Zeppelin ripping off other artists? Of course…

    Reply this comment
  2. Rick12
    #2 Rick12 14 June, 2019, 16:16

    Perhaps everyone ELSE who has ever used that minor descending pattern should ALSO be sued at the same time. I’m sure that George Benson/Carpenters would be thrilled to defend Masquerade. At least, Wolfe and The Carpenters would be fighting it out in a much higher court.

    For the love of God, what did Spirit EVER do that compared favorably to the least of Zeppelin’s songs (and I’m not even a Zep fan)?

    Reply this comment
    • kwhisperer
      kwhisperer 20 August, 2019, 12:08

      Spirit did LOTS on par with Zeppelin. Taurus was a (very) minor piece for them but their albums were excellent. Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus for one. I love Zep, but Spirit was a fantastic group as well.

      Reply this comment
  3. Just a Word
    #3 Just a Word 15 November, 2019, 11:37

    …far more interesting to ask where Randy got the idea from – listen Johnny Rivers ‘Summer Rain released Nov 67 (within 12 weeks number 12 on Billboard chart) Not only same note idea but rain storm effects as well. Obviously Randy must have heard it.

    Reply this comment
  4. Johnny Winter Steal....
    #4 Johnny Winter Steal.... 10 March, 2020, 11:39

    Zep has ripped off a few licks from other artists. I don’t know the title of the Zep song but if you listen to “I’m Yours & I’m Hers” by Johnny Winter, you will recognize another Zep/Page ripoff…..

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