Stairway to Heaven Copyright Case

A US judge has ruled that the iconic rock song “Stairway to Heaven” has sufficient similarities to the song “Taurus” by the band Spirit that it can proceed to a trial before a jury.  The judge decided that, whilst a descending chromatic chord progression is common in music, there are similarities between the songs that go beyond this and which require a subjective assessment of ‘concept and feel’.

Led Zeppelin toured with Spirit in the late 60s at which time Spirit were performing Taurus.  Led Zeppelin released Stairway to Heaven in 1971 and it is considered to be one of the greatest rock songs of all time.  The copyright action claims that Led Zeppelin heard Spirit perform Taurus and plagiarised distinctive elements of the song.

The action has been brought by the estate of the late Randy Wolfe who was the guitarist in Spirit.  This may lead to Led Zeppelin disputing the case on other legal issues than copyright, such as, the trust of the estate having been established incorrectly and therefore unable to bring the action.  Even if the action succeeds, Randy Wolfe’s estate is likely to be limited in the royalties it can claim due to certain contractual issues and the US statute of limitations.

This isn’t the first instance of copyright action being brought against Led Zeppelin.  Previous actions have led to song writing credits and royalties being attributed to other parties on some of their hit songs such as “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Lemon Song”.

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