Led Zeppelin's Plant, Page to face 'Stairway to Heaven' trial

Mon Apr 11, 2016 4:54pm EDT
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - Led Zeppelin's lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page must face a U.S. jury trial over whether they stole opening chords for their 1971 classic "Stairway to Heaven."

In a decision on Friday, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner in Los Angeles said "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 clichéd 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 recognizable 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."   Continued...

Lead singer Robert Plant (L) and guitarist Jimmy Page of the British rock band Led Zeppelin are shown in these October 9, 2012 and July 21, 2015 combination file photos in New York and Toronto.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri, Hans Deryk