Led Zeppelin could make that nasty “Stairway to Heaven” copyright lawsuit go away for a mere dollar, but they would have to give credit to a songwriter who died nearly 20 years ago.
Lawyers representing Los Angeles rock band Spirit are reportedly willing to settle their plagiarism case aimed at the iconic 1971 Led Zeppelin song for one dollar, but Led Zeppelin founders Robert Plant and Jimmy Page would have to give songwriting credit to the late Spirit guitarist Randy “California” Wolfe, according to Bloomberg. The lawsuit contends that Led Zeppelin’s famous “Stairway to Heaven” opening chords were lifted from a 1967 Spirit instrumental, “Taurus.”
Spirit had a hit with the 1968 song “I Got a Line On You,” but Wolfe wrote the instrumental, “Taurus,” in the late 1960s for the L.A. band’s first album. And since Spirit toured with Led Zeppelin on the European festival circuit in 1968 and 1969, the lawsuit alleges that Plant and Page heard the instrumental, as “Taurus” was part of the band’s set list at the time. Randy California even revealed he became friendly with Led Zeppelin and noted that the English rockers took a piece of his instrumental for their famous song.
The Led Zeppelin copyright lawsuit has apparently been kicked around for decades. Randy California’s surviving Spirit bandmates previously neglected to take action due against Led Zeppelin due to financial reasons, but four decades later, lawyers for Wolfe’s heirs finally slapped the lawsuit on Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Super Hype Publishing Inc., and Warner Music Group over the “Stairway” opening riff.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner determined that the lawyers for the estate of the late Randy Wolfe presented enough evidence to warrant a trial to determine if Led Zeppelin stole chords from Spirit to craft their signature 1971 song. According to Pitchfork, Klausner’s ruling stated that while certain chord progressions are commonplace in music, the Zeppelin song’s similarities to “Taurus” were too great to ignore.
While one dollar doesn’t buy much these days, Francis Alexander Malofiy, the attorney for Wolfe’s trustee Michael Skidmore, said his client wants credit given where credit is due. In this case, to the late Randy California.
“I don’t believe a jury will be as forgiving as Led Zeppelin’s fans,” Malofiy said.
The attorney also said it’s not too late for Led Zeppelin to “bridge division and give the credit that’s due…it comes down to credit.”
Even if Led Zeppelin chooses not to settle for a buck, bandmates Plant and Page have already had several pre-trial victories. According to Billboard, Judge Klausner has ruled that jurors will not hear testimony regarding Led Zeppelin members’ vast wealth, past drug use or previous copyright infringement settlements. Led Zeppelin previously settled out of court in cases involving their 1969 songs “Whole Lotta Love” (blues legend Willie Dixon now has a co-credit on the song) and “Dazed and Confused,” which was released as a reworked version after folk singer Jake Holmes released his song “Dazed and Confused.” All evidence in the Spirit-Led Zeppelin trial must deal explicitly with the copyright of “Taurus” and will be limited to what was deposited with the Copyright Office in 1967.
The trial in the Led Zeppelin copyright case is scheduled to begin May 10 in Los Angeles. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page will not testify in the trial, although they have both taped depositions that will likely be played for the jury. Fellow Led Zeppelin band member John Paul Jones is excluded from the case.
Check out the video below to hear the similarities between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus.”
[Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images]