Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By Stan Greene
Observer Staff Writer 

Stairway to Heaven: Led Zepplin Prevails at Trial

Jury refuses to award damages to the band Spirit

 

Roibert plant and Jimmy Page in court

The jury has returned with a defense verdict, finding no substantial similarity between the song Stairway to Heaven and the instrumental song Taurus by the Los Angeles-based rock band Spirit. Taurus was written by the band's guitarist Randy Wolfe, known as Randy California.

Spirit was able to file the lawsuit, despite the obvious statue of limitations problem, because Led Zepplin had released a greatest hits album. Spirit could therefore sue for the new version of the song on said new album.

In the liner notes to the 1996 reissue of Spirit's debut album, Randy California wrote:

People always ask me why "Stairway to Heaven" sounds exactly like "Taurus", which was released two years earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played "Fresh Garbage" in their live set. They opened up for us on their first American tour.

In May 2014, Spirit's bassist Mark Andes, and a trust acting on behalf of Wolfe (who died in 1997), filed a copyright infringement suit against Led Zeppelin and injunction against the "release of the album containing the song" in an attempt to obtain a writing credit for the deceased guitarist.

Robert Plant performing stairway to Heaven

A lack of money to pay legal fees was cited as one of the reasons that Spirit's members and their survivors did not file the suit earlier.

A friend of Wolfe's mother explained: "Nobody had any money, and they thought the statute of limitations was done", adding, "It will be nice if Randy got the credit". If the Spirit lawsuit is successful, past royalties earned by the song-estimated at more than US$550 million-will not be part of the settlement, but the publisher and composers may be entitled to a share of the future profits.

On 11 April 2016 a Los Angeles district judge, Gary Klausner, ruled that there were enough similarities between the song and the instrumental for a jury to decide the claim and a trial was scheduled for 10 May. The copyright infringement action was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Wolfe.

 

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