April 12, 2016

Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant And Jimmy Page Face 'Stairway To Heaven' Trial


Led Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page must face a US jury trial over whether they stole opening chords for their 1971 classic Stairway to Heaven.

US District Judge Gary Klausner in Los Angeles ruled Stairway and the 1967 instrumental Taurus by the band Spirit were similar enough to let a jury decide whether Plant and Page were liable for copyright infringement.

A trial is scheduled for May 10.
The lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, who was Spirit’s guitarist and the composer of Taurus.

Skidmore said Page may have been inspired to write Stairway for Led Zeppelin after hearing Spirit perform Taurus while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969, but that Wolfe never got credit. The defendants said Wolfe was a songwriter-for-hire who had no copyright claim, and that the chord progressions were so cliched that they did not deserve copyright protection.

But the judge said a jury could find “substantial” similarity between the first two minutes of Stairway and Taurus, which he called “arguably the most recognisable and important segments” of the songs.

“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,” Klausner wrote. “What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works ... a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.” Klausner dismissed claims against Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and Warner Music Group Corp.

He also said the trustee can get only 50 per cent of any damages awarded, citing a 1967 contract that Wolfe signed.

“This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong,” Francis Malofiy, a lawyer for Skidmore said.
A lawyer for the defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to the complaint, Wolfe complained about the similarities of the songs in an interview shortly before he drowned in 1997 in the Pacific Ocean while attempting to rescue his son. Stairway to Heaven is a track on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album, often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV.



With many thanks to The Australian

Led Zeppelin on trial: you can’t copyright a cliché

More from Spiked:

A judge has ruled that Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page will face a trial in California next month over the allegation that their song ‘Stairway to Heaven’, one of the most famous songs in all of rock, plagiarises ‘Taurus’, the considerably less-renowned instrumental by American prog-rock group Spirit. The dispute is over the opening acoustic guitar riff, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the hook from Spirit’s track.

Spirit’s late guitarist Randy Wolfe, better known as Randy California, had been quoted as saying ‘I’ll let [Led Zeppelin] have the beginning of “Taurus” for their song without a lawsuit’. Now, some 40 years after the realise of ‘Stairway’ on Led Zeppelin IV, the trustees of Wolfe’s estate will fight the legal battle Wolfe himself had no intention of getting involved in.

There is a genuine similarity between the riff in the two songs – they’re even played in the same key. But ‘Taurus’ lacks the melody of ‘Stairway’, which is played on the higher strings of the guitar. What’s more, the chord progression is so clichéd musicologists have actually given it a technical name: the minor line cliché.

A minor line cliché is a progression in which a bassline descends note-by-note through the chromatic scale, while being harmonised in the key’s diatonic scale. If that sounds like jargon, just listen to standards like ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘Feelings’, or ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’. They are all played in different keys, and in different tempi, but these songs all share the same clichéd progression of ‘Stairway’ and ‘Taurus’. 

The lawsuit has been bolstered by the fact that Led Zeppelin opened for Spirit in 1968, which, the lawyers claim, helped the band ‘create and carve out their distinct sound’. Led Zeppelin even covered Spirit’s ‘Fresh Garbage’ in their live sets. This isn’t the first time Led Zeppelin have been accused of plagiarism. As a number of their tracks were written after jamming on old blues songs, the band have had to adjust their song-writing credits a number of times to give royalties to the estates of musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.

By Christian Butler

Another update from Noise 11. May 25th 2016:

Both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page plan to be present for the Stairway to Heaven trial brought against the pair by the estate of Spirit songwriter Randy California.

The suit alleges that Plant and Page, while part of Led Zeppelin, appropriated a guitar part from the Spirit instrumental Taurus for the intro of Stairway. Zeppelin had opened for Spirit during a 1968 tour and the lawsuit says they would have heard the song during that time.

The trial was scheduled to start May 10 but was pushed to June 14 after the Zepplin’s lawyers claimed that the attorneys for California trustee Michael Skidmore were trying to taint the jury pool by claiming that none of the Zeppelin members were going to attend the trial, showing that they weren’t taking the suit seriously.

While he wasn’t a songwriter for Stairway, the third surviving Zeppelin member, John Paul Jones, will also be attending the trial.

As a result of the trial, Plant has been forced to cancel his appearance at “The Ship We’re In” benefit show, that was part of the Meltdown Festival, that was scheduled for June 19 at Royal Festival Hall.

Plant’s representative said “It is with great disappointment that Robert must cancel his appearance. Robert has been enthusiastic to help in any way to the increased awareness and support of so many powerless and distraught peoples. Therefore the opportunity afforded at Guy Garvey’s Meltdown was an event that Robert was passionately drawn to.”


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