Led Zeppelin to Stand Trial Over ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Plagiarism Claim
After years of legal maneuvering, lawyers for Led Zeppelin are headed to trial against representatives for the estate of Spirit co-founder Randy California.
The Washington Post reports that a May 10 trial date stands for a suit filed on California's behalf two years ago, alleging that Zeppelin co-founders Jimmy Page and Robert Plant plagiarized the Spirit track "Taurus" for their song "Stairway to Heaven." The decision was handed down by U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner, who dismissed the Zeppelin team's argument that while the two songs might share musical similarities, they're common enough to be meaningless.
"While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure," wrote Klausner in his 20-page opinion. "For example, the descending bass line in both Taurus and Stairway to Heaven appears at the beginning of both songs, arguably the most recognizable and important segments. … Additionally, the descending bass line is played at the same pitch, repeated twice and separated by a short bridge in both songs."
"This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due," said Francis Malofiy, lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview with Reuters. "Now we get to right that wrong."
Neither the surviving members of Led Zeppelin nor their attorneys responded to requests for comment in the wake of Klausner's decision, but Page was recently quoted as saying he'd never heard "Taurus," or the Spirit album it appeared on, prior to the lawsuit being filed. That said, Zeppelin have a history of being sued by — and settling with — songwriters who claim the group stole from their work.
"They have lost a couple cases before and have given some writing credit to the original guys," documentarian Kirby Ferguson told Vox. "There is a history of this happening with the band. ... Even if one thinks this case is potentially not that convincing — and I think it is convincing — there is a longer trend."
While we await the start of the trial, take a look at some in-depth analysis of the similarities between "Stairway to Heaven" and "Taurus" — as well as the way those musical ingredients underpin other songs from the era — in the above clip, courtesy of singer/songwriter TJR.
Led Zeppelin Albums Ranked Worst to Best