Led Zeppelin isn’t the first band to be put through the litigation ringer—but they are the latest. The US District Court of California ruled last Friday the band’s hit song Stairway to Heaven had “substantial similarities” to Spirit’s Taurus.
It’s claimed the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969, but the remaining members of Led Zeppelin don’t recall it. Spirit’s late Randy Wolfe (also known as Randy California) wrote “Taurus” in 1967, while Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page released Stairway to Heaven in 1971. It has been played over three million times, earning Led Zeppelin more than $562 million since 2008.
Judge Gary Klausner said the two songs shared distinct similarities in their opening sequences, such as; a descending chromatic four-chord progression, a descending baseline of the same pitch and similar structure patterns. Randy Wolfe’s trustee Michael Skidmore and lawyer Francis Malofiy said Spirit deserved recognition.
“The case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong,” Mr Malofiy said.
This is not the first time Led Zeppelin has been in trouble for copyright, with issues around songs Whole Lotta Love, Babe I’m Gonna Leave You, and Dazed and Confused resolved through a series of payments.
Other performers and popular songs have come under fire in the past. Radiohead’s Creep, Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines and Men at Work’s Australian anthem Down Under have all faced copyright battles.
South Coast musician and teacher Danny Freeman said bands are a “sum of their influences”.
“[There is] nothing in this game that hasn’t been done before musically,” he said.
“I would argue all song writers are constantly plagiarising.”
Led Zeppelin will face court on May 10.