A jury determines that Led Zeppelin did not plagiarize their iconic hit from '60s band, Spirit

By Jordan Runtagh
June 23, 2016 03:15 PM
Dick Barnatt/Redferns/Getty

After a week-long trial – and two years of legal posturing – Led Zeppelin have won the copyright lawsuit claiming that they had plagiarized the music for their beloved classic, “Stairway to Heaven.”

After a day of deliberation, the eight-member Los Angeles jury reached an unanimous decision that guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant did not lift the song’s iconic arpeggiated intro from the California band Spirit’s 1968 instrumental, “Taurus.” Witnesses say the rock legends warmly embraced their defense team as the verdict was read.

Following the decision, Page and Plant issued a joint statement: “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. We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2014 by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe (a.k.a. Randy California). He alleged that, as the two bands had occasionally toured together between 1968 and 1970, Page would have been aware of “Taurus” and subsequently copied it when writing “Stairway To Heaven” a short time later.

Page’s song was featured on Led Zeppelin’s untitled 1971 album, since dubbed Led Zeppelin IV, which has sold more than 23 million copies and is ranked as the fourth bestselling album of all time by the Recording Industry Association of America. Royalties on the album have been estimated at nearly $600 million.

The case, which featured testimony from all three of the surviving band members, was fiercely contentious at points. According to Rolling Stone, Skidmore’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy, pointedly referred to Page as the “alleged songwriter” behind “Stairway to Heaven,” and dismissed Led Zeppelin as “session musicians playing other people’s music” in his closing argument. Bizarrely, Malofiy also claimed the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee” from the Disney film Mary Poppins influenced Page’s composition.

Led Zeppelin attorney Peter Anderson also wasn’t afraid to play rough, referencing the alleged illegitimate son of Wolfe’s mother during cross-examination and contending that Spirit’s music “would not even be remembered.” Plant echoed the statement, saying he failed to remember the song “Taurus,” and also doesn’t recall performing with Spirit at all. “I didn’t remember it then, and I don’t remember it now, he said under oath.

The courtroom became so heated that the judge was heard to ask “Any other catfights?” before excusing the jury to deliberate.

With reporting by PHILIP BOUCHER and PETER MIKELBANK

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