A federal jury decided their case, that Led Zeppelin officially did not steal a guitar riff for the introduction of their rock anthem, Stairway to Heaven.
The trust of the late Randy Wolfe claimed that Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page used a riff that Wolfe, known as Randy California, wrote with his band Spirit in 1968 for the song Taurus.
The Taurus song contains a section that sounds like the recognizable beginning of Stairway, but jurors couldn’t hear the recordings. They had the hard task of relying on renditions of the sheet music filed with the US Copyright Office to show the works were similar.
Jurors deliberated for hours and reached their verdict after watching videos of a guitarist perform both passages in question. The renditions seemed similar, but in no way identical.
Jurors found the trust had proven Page and Plant had access to Taurus and would have been familiar with it, which is something they denied on the witness stand.
Page and Plant wrote the Stairway lyrics and said their creation was an original. In several hours of testimony, they described the art behind one of rock and roll’s best-known songs.
Plant laughed in the courtroom while explaining that he didn’t remember most of the people he met over the years. Malofiy criticized their selective memory and convenient truths in closing arguments.
Experts dissected both compositions, agreeing that they shared a descending chord progression that dates back three centuries.
However, trust experts noted several other similarities that made the two songs unlike many other tunes they compared them to.
Led Zeppelin’s lawyer said that this should have been brought to court over 40 years ago when Wolfe was alive. Had they done this sooner, Page and Plant would have better memories.
Wolfe drowned in 1997 saving his son at a Hawaiian beach. Apparently, Wolfe talked about suing, but lawyers didn’t want to take an old case. A 2014 Supreme Court allowed filing a copyright suit with damages dating back three years.
Malofiy asked jurors to give Wolfe songwriting credits and millions of dollars in damages.
They took jurors on a journey through 1960’s musical history when Spirit was achieving some stardom.
Stops on the tour of testimony included the making of Stairway in a country house in the south of England. Page said he first shared the opening with Jones in the spring of 1970 at Headley Grange. Plant remembers sitting by the fire when Page played the intro on acoustic.
Jurors never heard a note from Page or Plant live, but they listened to vintage recordings of the band creating the song. Plant is heard singing off key and humming sections without lyrics. Meanwhile, Page played chords that didn’t make the final cut. When they played the full recording, Page bobbed his head and moved to the music. The rock stars didn’t chat with fans in the gallery, and bodyguards accompanied them everywhere.
The band settled nearly six other cases accusing them of copyright, including The Lemon Song, Whole Lotta Love, and Dazed and Confused. The Stairway trial is the first instance that went all the way to trial.
The jury’s verdict in favor of Led Zeppelin is monumental, but regarding the internet pundits and armchair quarterbacks who compare the two audio recordings, I think that debate will go on for time to come.