Stairway to eleven: Led Zeppelin back in court over their greatest masterpiece
Led Zeppelin are heading back in court over the claimed similarities of the opening guitar riffs between their 1971 masterpiece Stairway To Heaven and 1968 instrumental track Taurus by the US band Spirit.
In 2016, a court ruled that Zeppelin did not plagiarize the riff by Spirit guitarist Randy California (born Randy Wolfe).
California drowned in the Pacific Ocean in 1997 while trying to save his stepson.
But a San Francisco appeals court has over-ruled it, saying the original judge, R. Gary Klausner, erred on two technical points.
According to Judge Richard Paez of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Klausner did not advise the jury that California could win if they found a “sufficiently original combination of musical elements”.
He should also not have brought up to the jury’s attention of “copyrighting of music elements in the public domain” and should have stressed if Zeppelin members had access to the Spirit song.
Randy California’s estate argued that he should get a credit on the track, attributed to Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant, and written in 1970 in a cottage in the wilds of Wales.
But the jury found that while Page would have heard the Taurus riff – both Zeppelin and Spirit played the same bill – the riffs were not identical.
California’s lawyer Michael Skidmore also argued that the jury should have been able to hear Taurus in court, and further watch Page hear Taurus in court and seen his demeanour.
This would have, the lawyer argued, added to the effect of the cross-examination of Page.
Led Zeppelin’s attorney Peter Anderson responded that “substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdict and Skidmore’s appeal has absolutely no merit.”
Anderson also argues that Page and Plant’s publisher Warner/Chappell should not have to pay the $800,000 in fees, and that this should be borne by the California estate.
Blurring the similarity between Taurus and Stairway is that the riff also has a slight resemblance to an earlier intro by British folkie Davy Graham for the track Cry Me A River in the late 1950s.
A date for the case’s returns to court has not been decided.