Led Zeppelin Wins ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Trial

Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven
Ian Dickson/REX/Shutterstock

Led Zeppelin won an ongoing copyright lawsuit over the guitar riff in “Stairway to Heaven,” according to a verdict announced on Thursday.

The suit was filed in 2014 by Michael Skidmore, the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, who asserted that the iconic riff was stolen from the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus.” “Stairway to Heaven” was released in 1971 on the record “Led Zeppelin IV.”

Over the course of the trial, which began on June 14 and lasted over a week, the jury heard testimony from Skidmore, a Spirit band member and musicologists who discussed whether Led Zeppelin had heard “Taurus” before writing “Stairway to Heaven,” and argued the musical similarities between the two songs.

Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones also testified at trial, saying that they did not remember seeing Spirit play live, despite the fact that the bands shared bills during Zeppelin’s early years. Page said that he had not heard “Taurus” until recently.

Zeppelin have come under fire for copyright infringement before. Bluesman Willie Dixon sued the band over “Whole Lotta Love’s” similarity to Dixon’s “You Need Love,” settling out of court. Also settled out of court was a suit brought by Chess Records over “Bring It on Home’s” homages to Sonny Boy Williamson’s identically titled song, as well as a suit from Ritchie Valens’ publisher over “Boogie With Stu,” which borrowed elements from Valens’ “Ooh, My Head.” However, during his lifetime, Spirit’s frontman Wolfe, who died in 1997, never took legal action against Led Zeppelin.

“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,” Page and Plant said in an official statement. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”

The precedent set by another verdict in March, 2015 — when a judge ordered Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams to pay $7.3 million to the family of Marvin Gaye over their song “Blurred Lines.” — only heightened the stakes for the Zeppelin trial.

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    1. it boggles my mind that some one can sue after 40 years for this and not for rap.

    2. goatsandmonkeys says:

      Good news. Artists always inspire each other.

    3. Michael A. Levine says:

      Skidmore’s case always seemed tenuous to me, not because I don’t hear the similarity, but because it represents such a small part of the song. I find it hard to believe that Jimmy Page “doesn’t remember” playing with Spirit or hearing Taurus – it doesn’t jibe with things Robert Plant has said about their voracious listening habits.

      Much more of a smoking gun, however, is Jake Holmes’ Dazed And Confused from which Zep “borrowed” not only the title, lyrics, and bits of melody, but took the opening guitar riff. It is my understanding they settled out of court.

    4. gmatusk says:

      I have news for Skidmore — YOU owe many millions to the estates of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, John Cage, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and Frank Zappa.

    5. Does anybody remember laughter? ;-)

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