Court rules that Led Zeppelin did not steal Stairway riff
Iconic track has grossed $3.4m during five-year battle
A court has ruled that Led Zeppelin did not steal the riff to Stairway to Heaven, settling a four-year court case about the 1971 track.
Randy Wolfe, a songwriter from the Los Angeles band Spirit, had claimed that the guitar riff had been copied from his own song, Taurus.
In 2016, a district court in San Francisco found no proof that Wolfe’s copyright had been breached, but the judgement was overturned in 2018 by a panel of three judges, who said instructions to the jury had been “erroneous and prejudicial”.
Led Zeppelin then appealed against the decision, resulting in yesterday’s ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that the band had not stolen the riff.
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page testified in 2016 that the chord sequence in contention had “been around forever”.
But Wolfe’s trustee, Michael Skidmore, said the songs had similar chord progressions and argued that Page may have composed Stairway to Heaven after hearing Taurus while Led Zeppelin and Spirit toured together.
The track, “played by amateurs in guitar shops for nearly 50 years,” says Washington Times, is estimated to have grossed £2.6m since the earlier trial.
Fox News says Page and singer Robert Plant, who wrote the song, could have faced a bill for “millions of dollars” in damages if they had lost.
In their ruling, the appeal judges said the trial had “been a long climb up the Stairway to Heaven” in itself. “The parties and their counsel have acquitted themselves well in presenting complicated questions of copyright law,” it concluded. “We affirm the judgement that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven did not infringe Spirit’s Taurus.”
Courts have heard similar cases in recent years. In 2015, jurors decided that Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines” copied Marvin Gaye’s Got to Give It Up, and last year a court found that Katy Perry’s hit Dark Horse had been copied from a Christian rap song.
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