Led Zeppelin Climbs Stairway to Heavenly Victory

Posted June 23, 2016 by J Matthew Cobb in Features

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page wins landmark case regarding accusations of plagiarism involving “Stairway to Heaven”

Today, a ruling was made in a trial that would have rewritten the music history of one of the most iconic rock songs of all time.

After a week’s worth of testimony and arguments, a jury came back with “not guilty,” ruling in favor of Led Zeppelin, who was accused of plagiarizing the opening guitar riffs of “Taurus,” an instrumental song recorded in 1968 by the band Spirit, to make “Stairway to Heaven.” An executor of Spirit’s estate, Michael Skidmore, testified on behalf of the band, while Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant represented their side. Musicologists and other witnesses also approached the court stand with their own opinions on the matter. In the end, Led Zeppelin won and the many subsidiaries of Warner Music (Led Zeppelin recorded with Atlantic, which is now owned by Warner).


Of course, the lawsuit’s finality puts to bed one of the biggest debates in rock history regarding the origins of Led Zeppelin’s power ballad. Spirit, who accompanied Led Zeppelin in the late ‘60’s on a US tour, was penned by Randy California for their self-titled debut LP, recorded in between August 31 and November 17 of 1967 and released the following year on Epic Records. “Stairway to Heaven” was recorded in London at Island Records’ Basing Street Studios in late 1970 and released on their fourth LP (Led Zeppelin IV) in 1971. Guitar World magazine stirred the controversy up in 1997 when they penned that “[Spirit’s Randy] California’s most enduring legacy may well be the fingerpicked acoustic theme of the song ‘Taurus’, which Jimmy Page lifted virtually note for note for the introduction to ‘Stairway to Heaven’.”

The trust for Randy Wolfe, who adopted the surname California, was seeking millions of dollars along with a third of the songwriting credit for “Stairway to Heaven.” Zeppelin’s lawyer, however, pointed out that the trust does not own the copyright and that the particular section that smelled like plagiarism was actually a highly common descending chord sequence that has been around in music for decades and has been a part of the public domain.


It was true, according to Page and Plant, that the band performed with Spirit, an American band, many decades ago, but they both said they were denied access to the song while making their 1970 song, “Stairway to Heaven.” During the trial, their testimonies were a bit fuzzy about how their iconic song was created. They were on one accord about penning the song at a country house south of London, their testimony was not on accord with previous accounts made in random interviews from other band members.

After the trial concluded, both Page and Plant issued a joint statement celebrating their legal victory.  “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 forty-five years,” they said. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”

Ironically, the trial was held in California, in the same district court where the $7.4-million dollar “Blurred Lines” lawsuit was held.

Attorney Peter J. Anderson, who led the defense, swore that he is seeking an appeal.

It’s not the first time Led Zeppelin has been accused of plagiarizing other works. Also, according to the defense, they have reached settlements in the past regarding songwriting credits regarding songs like “Whole Lotta Love,” “Dazed and Confused” and “The Lemon Song.”

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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