Jury rules in favour of Led Zeppelin in copyright trial

British band accused of stealing opening chords of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from ‘Taurus’

  The surviving members of British rock band Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in 2012. File photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

The surviving members of British rock band Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in 2012. File photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

 

A jury sided with Led Zeppelin on Thursday in a federal copyright infringement trial in Los Angeles where the band stood accused of stealing the opening chords of the 1971 classic Stairway to Heaven from an American group.

The jury found Led Zeppelin’s singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page had access to the 1967 song Taurus by the US band Spirit, but that the riff they were accused of taking from Taurus was not intrinsically similar to the opening chords of Stairway.

The lawsuit was filed by Michael Skidmore, the trustee of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe – known as Randy California – who drowned in 1997 having never taken legal action over the song.

Experts

Music experts contested whether Stairway To Heaven and Taurus were “substantially similar” after the jury was told both songs feature a “descending chromatic chord progression” in A minor.

Do you think they sound the same?

Musicologist Alexander Stewart said the rhythm, chords and harmonies of Taurus, and the introduction to Stairway To Heaven, were “virtually identical”, while professional musician Kevin Hanson said the two songs had a “striking similarity”.

But Lawrence Ferrara, a music professor at New York University, said a descending chromatic chord progression was a “musical building block” for a song and it can be found in music dating back 300 years.

The opening of 1960s songs Michelle by The Beatles, Johnny Mathis’s My Funny Valentine and The Bob Crewe Generation’s Music To Watch Girls By could all be compared to Taurus, he said.

In his evidence, singer Mr Plant (67) said he had no memory of watching Spirit in Birmingham in 1970, because he was involved in a car crash that night.

The three surviving members of Led Zeppelin were briefly reunited during the trial when bassist John Paul Jones gave evidence. Mr Jones – who was not a defendant in the case – said he could not recall seeing Spirit live and denied owning any of their albums or singles.

Agencies