Led Zeppelin to go to trial over Stairway to Heaven

A jury will decide next week if the legendary Led Zeppelin rock song might borrow too much from music by the lesser known band Spirit.

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

A combination picture of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

Millions have grown up listening to one of Led Zeppelin's most famous songs, Stairway to Heaven. It has bridged generations since its release in late 1971 to become, what many say, the greatest rock song of all time. But what if this mesmerising hit is based on theft? 

On June 14 Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin face a lawsuit in Los Angeles alleging that part of the music in the song was taken from Taurus, an instrumental track from a lesser known band named Spirit, according to The New York Times.

Zeppelin's Page is accused of using the guitar notes from Taurus and never giving any credit to Spirit's guitarist Randy Wolfe. The instrumental beginning of the two tracks is strikingly similar but Taurus came out at least two years before Stairway to Heaven.

There is no dispute over the lyrics, which were penned by Robber Plant.

This is Staiway to Heaven:

And this is Taurus:

The copyright infringement lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Wolfe – also known as Randy California – according to Reuters. The case was first filed in 2014.

Skidmore said Page may have been inspired to write Stairway after hearing Spirit while the two bands toured together in 1968 and 1969.

On their part, the defendants say Wolfe was a songwriter-for-hire who had no copyright claim, and that the chord progressions were so clichéd that they do not deserve copyright protection.

"This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong," Fancis Malofiy, a lawyer for Skidmore, had said in April when a Judge decided that the Zeppelin crew must stand trial.

According to the lawsuit, Wolfe complained about the similarities of the songs in an interview shortly before he drowned in 1997 in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to rescue his son.

"Stairway to Heaven" is a track on Led Zeppelin's untitled fourth studio album, often referred to as "Led Zeppelin IV."

This is not the only time Led Zeppelin has had to face allegations like this. The band's other famous tracks like Whole Lotta Love and Dazed and Confused have also come under attack for not being entirely original. Led Zeppelin had to agree to settlements in these and other cases and give credit to various other songwriters in its albums.

Diehard Zeppelin fans can't stand seeing their saviours being accused of theft. And they are out in full support.

TRTWorld and agencies