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Copyright success for Led Zeppelin over ‘Stairway to Heaven’ riff

Written by Ellis Sweetenham on 29 June 2016

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Following an IP battle, a jury this week ruled that Led Zeppelin had not infringed any copyright protection in its use of the opening riff of their song ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

The case arose from a claim from surviving members and trusts representing former members of the band Spirit, who claimed that the riff was taken from their song ‘Taurus’ and their copyright protection had been infringed.

In 2014, Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust representing the composer of ‘Taurus’ submitted a lawsuit to the federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. He was joined by Jay Ferguson, another former bandmate, in supporting his claim.

They argued that Led Zeppelin stole the riff during the number of concerts in which the bands played together.

Led Zeppelin argued against this stating that the riff was not stolen from Spirit and that any similarities were coincidental. Their legal representatives also gave evidence to the jury to prove that the chord progressions used in both of the songs have been popular for a number of years.

The jury returned their verdict after five days of evidence stating that there had been no copyright infringement and there was no extrinsic similarity between the songs ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

After the verdict was reached, Led Zeppelin band members, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant expressed their joy and said

“We are grateful for the jury's conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favour, putting to rest questions about the origins of 'Stairway to Heaven' and confirming what we have known for 45 years. We appreciate our fans' support and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us." 

This is another example of the many cases arising in recent times where a claim for plagiarism of a music giant has not been successful. Many claims have been filed following the Pharrell/Thicke lawsuit involving a Marvin Gaye hit and its big pay-out. Many, however, have not had the same level of success, this one included.

If you'd like to know more about this article please send an email to Ellis Sweetenham quoting the article title and any questions you might have, alternatively call the office number on 02380 235 979 or send an enquiry through our contact form.

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