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A judge has ruled that Jimmy Page’s music for “Stairway to Heaven” is “substantially” similar enough to another song to justify a trial.
U.S. district judge Gary Klausner says a jury will determine whether Page and co-writer Robert are liable for copyright infringement. The stakes are big: “Stairway to Heaven” is estimated to be worth more than $560 million.
Page and Plant are being sued over their song’s similarity to “Taurus,” a composition written by Randy California and performed by his band Spirit on their 1968 debut album. The passage in contention is the distinctive descending chromatic arpeggio line, performed on acoustic guitar, that opens “Stairway to Heaven.”
At a pretrial hearing this past February, Page said descending arpeggio runs were “basic skills learned by any student of the guitar,” adding, “Certainly, as a guitarist, I was aware of descending chromatic lines and arpeggios long before 1968.”
But Klausner said the similarities between the Page and California’s compositions were strong enough to raise the question of plagiarism.
“While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,” Klausner said. “What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works,” calling the matter “a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.”
Zeppelin’s defense have claimed that the song’s “chord progressions were so clichéd that they did not deserve copyright protection.”
Furthermore, Page told the court in February that he had never heard “Taurus” until 2014 when it was played for him in connection with the lawsuit.
“Prior to hearing a recording of ‘Taurus’ in 2014 in connection with this matter, I have never heard ‘Taurus’ or even heard of it,” Page declared. “I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ until 2014.”
Although Led Zeppelin and Spirit shared stages on several occasions in the late Sixties, Page says, “I do not recall ever seeing Spirit perform live.”
California, who’s real name is Randy Wolfe, died in 1997. The case against Page and Plant was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for California’s estate
The trial is scheduled for May 10.
In the video below, TJR of TJRMusic.com explores the similarities and differences between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus.”