Stairway to Heaven keeps its glory

The high profile trial ends with jury clearing Led Zeppelin of copyright infringement allegation involving the band's iconic song

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

A combination photo of Led Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant and Jimmy Page

Updated Jun 30, 2016

A jury in the United States has saved the sanctity of one of most iconic rock song of all times – Stairway to Heaven - the signature anthem of hard rock legend Led Zeppelin.

After a week-long trial, which was closely watched, jurors came out with a verdict on Thursday that Zeppelin did not steal instrumental riff from another classic rock band Spirit.

The case has closed a bitter chapter in rock history – at least for now.

Stairway was released in Zeppelin's album IV in 1971. It quickly rose to top of the charts. Since then it has been ranked as one of the greatest rock tracks many times.

But a 2014 lawsuit said the first two minutes of Stairway to Heaven bore similarity to Spirit's instrumental track Taurus.


In the early 1960s a counterculture was developing in England, which had just started to rise from the economic aftershocks of World War II.

Young artists had hit the streets on the footsteps of the Beatles. Among them were Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, three of the most influential guitarists the world has ever heard.

As fate had it, the three musicians shot to fame during their time playing for blues band Yardbirds.

Later, Page joined hands with John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham, an extremely talented drummer, to form a new band. They named it Led Zeppelin – after an airship.

Zeppelin did its first gig in October 1968. Stairway to Heaven was still three years away.  

Across the Atlantic an American band called Spirit was also producing psychedelic music around the same time. Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, was the band's guitarist. He played the main role in creating Taurus in 1967.

Wolfe was not just any guitarist. He had the distinction of playing with Jimi Hendrix for a while. It was Hendrix who nicknamed him Randy California to distinguish him from another Randy in his group.

The case

Years before the Stairway copyright infringement case was decided in a US District Court in Los Angeles, people had noticed the similarities between the two tracks.

According to the case documents, the two bands had performed at least three times on the same day and at the same venue between 1968 and 1970.

In a 1991 interview, California said Led Zeppelin members used to come and see Spirit's performance.

Asked if opening chords from Taurus had been copied in Stairway to Heaven, he said "I’ll let (Led Zeppelin) have the beginning of Taurus for their song without a lawsuit."

Randy California

California kept playing with Spirit and never sued Zeppelin during his lifetime which ended in 1997 when he drowned off the coast of Hawaii.

The case was ultimately filed by a trustee of California's trust.

Not the first time

During the trial, Page said the riff Led Zeppelin had been accused of stealing was in common use way before Stairway and Taurus came out.

The band had faced a similar infringement cases in the past. The band had also agreed to settlements with other artists.

The songs which have been challenged include the band's famous hits Dazed & Confused and Whole Lotta Love.

Zeppelin comes from an age when it was relatively easy to borrow from other musicians. But now music enthusiasts quickly find similarities between different songs over the internet and share their views on social media.  

TRTWorld and agencies