Led Zeppelin to Face Jury Trial for 'Stairway to Heaven' Copyright Lawsuit

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Source:   —  April 13, 2016, at 3:26 AM

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, and bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones are the named defendants, along with Super Hype Publishing, Inc.

Led Zeppelin to Face Jury Trial for 'Stairway to Heaven' Copyright Lawsuit

Led Zeppelin'south rock tune "Stairway to Heaven" may be a rip-off of the song "Taurus" from a lesser-known band called Spirit, according to a lawsuit that'll be presented to a jury following month.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, and bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones are the named defendants, along with Super Hype Publishing, Inc. and Warner Music Grouping Corp. Randy Wolfe, also known as "Randy California," started Spirit in one thousand nine hundred sixty-seventh with four other musicians, and the band released its self-titled debut album in one thousand nine hundred sixty-eighth. The Randy Craig Wolfe Trust'south trustee, Michael Skidmore, filed the lawsuit in two thousand-fourteenth in federal Ct in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Wolfe died saving his son from being swept out to the sea in one thousand nine hundred ninety-seventh, according to the complaint.

"We wish to look credit given to Randy for his authorship and the composition of 'Stairway,'" Francis Malofiy, lead attorney for the plaintiff, told ABC News. Malofiy said the trustee filed the lawsuit in two thousand-fourteenth because an unrelated copyright lawsuit, Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, changed the case law that year regarding statute of limitations defense.

A spokesman for Led Zeppelin declined to comment to ABC News. Lawyers for the defendants didn't reply to requests for comment.

Latest week, Judge Gary Klausner decided the songs were similar sufficient to move forward with a jury trial, which has been scheduled for May ten. The judge also dismissed claims against Jones, the band'south publisher, Super Hype Publishing, and Warner Music Grouping because none of those parties performed or distributed "Stairway to Heaven" within the statute of limitations.

In late one thousand nine hundred sixty-eight, Led Zeppelin began touring in the U. S., opening for Spirit, according to the complaint. "Stairway to Heaven" was released in one thousand nine hundred seventy-first.

"It's number coincidence that the iconic notes to 'Stairway to Heaven,' that have enthralled generations of fans, sound nearly precisely the same as California’s ethereal yet classical guitar composition in 'Taurus,'" the complaint states.

An expert for the plaintiff, Alexander Stewart, prepared a 22-page report comparing recordings of "Taurus" with recordings and sheet music of "Stairway to Heaven," mainly looking at the opening two-minute segment, according to the judge'south opinion denying Led Zeppelin'south motion for summary judgment.

Here are some of the similarities that the expert pointed out, according to the judge'south opinion:

one. "A four-measure descending A minor guitar pattern."

two. "The over is separated by a longer "B" section, or bridge."

three. Stewart writes in his report and is cited in the opinion, "The presence of acoustic guitar, strings recorder/flute sounds, and harpsichord as well as the noticeable absence of bass and drums (and other instruments characteristic of rock and roll) lend both songs a decidedly 'classical' style, particularly evoking a Renaissance atmosphere."

four. Live versions of "Taurus" also "feature a similar fingerpicking fashion in the passage'south later appearance," according to Stewart.

However, the defendants had two experts of their own who said that the two songs weren't "substantially similar" and "any similarities between the two songs are insubstantial and represent commonplace musical devices."

The two sides of the lawsuit proposal different stories about how and when "Taurus" originated, plus how the two bands interacted with each other, according to Ct documents.

The plaintiff alleges that Wolfe created "Taurus" before the band's one thousand nine hundred sixty-seven recording contract, according to the judge'south opinion.

Meanwhile, the defendants claim that "Taurus" was initially composed and recorded after Spirit signed a recording contract in August one thousand nine hundred sixty-seven, when Wolfe had entered into an exclusive songwriter agreement with Hollenbeck Music, "with full rights of copyright renewal vested in Hollenbeck," the judge'south opinion states. In essence, the defendants argue that Wolfe never owned "Taurus" to start with.

However, Klausner points out that Wolfe "acquired common law copyright protection from the moment of creation," and, "absent proof that he somehow lost or transferred his rights, Wolfe continued to own the copyright in 'Taurus' when ... the federal copyright protection attached upon registration in December 1967."

“Suffice it to declare that Plaintiff has proffered sufficient proof to create a genuine issue of material fact as to the ownership of ‘Taurus,’” Klausner writes.

The judge also notes in his opinion that the bands performed at the same venue on the same day at minimum three times between one thousand nine hundred sixty-eight and one thousand nine hundred seventy.

"The surviving members of Led Zeppelin testified that they never toured with, shared a stage with, or listened to any of Spirit’s music during these brief encounters," Klausner wrote in his opinion. "The surviving Spirit members, on the other hand, recalled conversing with the Led Zeppelin members backstage between sets and performing in succession at two of the festivals."

Malofiy said his client isn't seeking specified damages. However, the complaint'south claims for relief comprise statutory damages of $150.000 per infringement.

"It really comes down to credit. Once it comes down to credit, we think everything else will fall in line," Malofiy said.

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