As we had already reported some eight months ago, Led Zeppelin, or more precisely, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had to head to court again. The problem was the appeal handed in by the lawyers of the estate of Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) late leader of Spirit. The lawyers of the estate appealed the original ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of appeals.
A number of news outlets are reporting, including CBS News and Digital Music News (DMN), that on March 8, 2020, a Federal Appeals Court ruled that Led Zeppelin did not steal the opening riff for “Stairway To Heaven” – its most well-known and popular song.
As CBS notes, “Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin were accused of plagiarizing the 1968 song ‘Taurus’ by the band Spirit. The lawsuit claimed the two were familiar with the song because Spirit and Led Zeppelin were on the same bill for several shows in 1968 and 1969. ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was released in 1971.” The estate’s attorney, Francis Malofiy, wanted a songwriting credit for Wolfe/California and sought damages between $3.4 million and $13.5 million.
In its decision, the court said that, “it is undisputed that Spirit and Led Zeppelin crossed paths in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The bands performed at the same venue at least three times between 1968 and 1970. Led Zeppelin also performed a cover of a Spirit song, ‘Fresh Garbage.’ But there is no direct evidence that the two bands toured together, or that Led Zeppelin band members heard Spirit perform ‘Taurus’.”
Both Page and Plant, along with Led Zeppelin’s basis John Paul Jones testified at the original trial. CBS also notes that the jury was not allowed to hear recordings of either “Stairway to Heaven” or “Taurus” as the lawsuit was over a copyright claim and only the sheet music is filed with the U.S. Copyright Office. Instead, musicians played the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” on a guitar and “Taurus” on a piano.
“The trial and appeal process has been a long climb up the ‘Stairway to Heaven,’” the decision concluded. “The parties and their counsel have acquitted themselves well in presenting complicated questions of copyright law. We affirm the judgment that Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ did not infringe Spirit’s ‘Taurus’.”