This one has been bubbling for a few years.
Two members of British rock band Led Zeppelin will go to court in Los Angeles on May 10 over a copyright dispute regarding the song “Stairway to Heaven.”
The case against Led Zeppelin comes from a trustee for the estate of a member of American rock band Spirit, who released a song named “Taurus” in 1968.
Michael Skidmore, representing the estate of Spirit member Randy Wolfe, claims that Led Zeppelin copied the introduction of “Taurus” and transformed that into the opening section of “Stairway to Heaven.”
Led Zeppelin denies the claim and asked a Los Angeles judge to issue a summary ruling on the case, but it was only granted in part. That means the case will go to court.
One member of Led Zeppelin is already off the hook
John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin’s bass and keyboard player, is no longer a defendant in the trial. The Los Angeles judge granted Led Zeppelin’s request for a summary judgment in regards to dismissing the suit against Jones and also against Warner Music.
There have been some pretty wild claims
Skidmore accused Led Zeppelin of “falsification of Rock n’ Roll history.” That’s a pretty big claim, but it’s also difficult to prove legally. An April 8 decision by the Los Angeles judge says that the “plaintiff presents an inventive — yet legally baseless — claim … The Court has diligently searched but is unable to locate any cognizable claim to support this theory of liability.”
It’s only about a specific part of both songs
Skidmore’s lawsuit specifically accuses Led Zeppelin of copying the introduction to “Taurus.” Both sides of the case called expert witnesses to examine the musical structure of the songs. It all boils down to two letters: A and B. “Taurus” starts with an “AABAAB” structure, while “Stairway to Heaven” has an “AABAABAA” structure.
In order to persuade the judge to grant him damages, Skidmore had to demonstrate that there was a “striking similarity” between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven.” But the Los Angeles judge decided that the songs were not close enough to rule on, but that they were similar enough that it should go to trial.