‘Stairway to Heaven’ suit: What you need to know
The song of the summer might actually be 45 years old.
A lawsuit centered around the legendary Led Zeppelin tune “Stairway to Heaven” kicks off Tuesday in a Los Angeles courtroom and the case is expected to be closely watched by both fans and music industry insiders.
Here’s what you should know about the case to bring you up to speed:
The suit was originally filed in May 2014 and charges that Led Zeppelin took the opening section of what is now one of rock music’s most famous songs from a song titled “Taurus” by a lesser known band, Spirit, which Led Zeppelin toured with in their early days.
“Late in 1968, a then new band named Led Zeppelin began touring in the United States, opening for Spirit,” the suit stated. “It was during this time that Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin’s guitarist, grew familiar with ‘Taurus’ and the rest of Spirit’s catalog. Page stated in interviews that he found Spirit to be ‘very good’ and that the band’s performances struck him ‘on an emotional level.’
Copyright infringement suit filed against Led Zeppelin for ‘Stairway to Heaven’
The suit was filed on behalf of musician/songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe, a Spirit band member who was known professionally as “Randy California.”
In an 1997 interview with Listener, California was asked about the similarities between “Taurus,” which was composed in 1968, and “Stairway to Heaven” which was released in 1971.
“Well, if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment,” California told the publication. “It’s an exact … I’d say it was a rip-off. And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said, ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me.”
In April 2016 a U.S. district court judge in Los Angeles ruled that there was enough to proceed with a copyright trial before a jury against Led Zeppelin’s surviving members, lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, who are credited with composing “Stairway to Heaven.”
Jury to decide whether Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ riff was stolen
The British superstars are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.
Over the years the pair have denied that they lifted anything from the Spirit song or even heard “Taurus” prior to the suit.
In 2014 Page told French newspaper Liberation “That’s ridiculous. I have no further comment on the subject” when asked about the songs similarities.
California, who reportedly received his stage name in the 1960s from Jimi Hendrix, died in 1997 after getting caught in a riptide while swimming with his young son. The suit was filed on his behalf by a trustee of California’s estate.
The two bands’ interactions playing at festivals together is at the heart of the suit as it is claimed that Page drew inspiration for the beginning of the Zeppelin song from those performances.
“Led Zeppelin and Spirit continued to play shows together, and even when the members of Led Zeppelin were not performing, they came to Spirit shows to watch,” the court documents state. “In interviews at the time, Page expressed his affection for Spirit, their music and their performances.”
“In homage to Spirit, Led Zeppelin had been performing the Spirit song ‘Fresh Garbage’ at its own shows,” the documents went on to read. “At one point in 1969, Page asked Randy to teach him the introduction to Taurus, which Randy showed him several times.”
Why it’s a big deal
The “Stairway to Heaven” case is the latest complaint to befall Led Zeppelin.
The New York Times reported that in 2012 the band settled a suit brought by Jake Holmes over their song “Dazed and Confused.”
And copyright cases have resulted in increasing scrutiny – and damages – within the music industry.
Last year Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams were ordered to pay the estate of singer Marvin Gaye $7.4 million after a jury found their song “Blurred Lines” had taken riffs from Gaye’s classic “Got to Give It Up.”