PHOTO: Brian Rasic | Getty Images
A jury today found that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant did not plagiarize a 1968 song with their composition “Stairway to Heaven.”
Page and Plant were accused of plagiarizing the song “Taurus,” written by Randy California (born Randy Wolfe) and performed by his band Spirit on their self-titled 1968 debut album. “Stairway to Heaven” was written in 1971 and, like “Taurus,” features a descending chromatic arpeggio line performed on acoustic guitar.
The decision, on Thursday, came after a week of testimony from Page, Plant and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, as well as former members of Spirit and expert witnesses for the plaintiff and defense.
In its verdict, the jury of eight said that Led Zeppelin members indeed heard “Taurus,” but that there was no substantial similarity in the extrinsic elements of the song and “Stairway to Heaven.” The decision was reached within half an hour of the jury listening to both songs one final time.
Much of the plaintiff’s argument rested on whether or not Page and Plant had ever heard “Taurus” prior to composing “Stairway to Heaven.” Both men claim to have never heard the song prior to a few years before the trial. Although a copy of Spirit’s debut exists in Page’s extensive record collection, he claims to have had no knowledge that it was there.
Led Zeppelin shared venues with Spirit in the late Sixties, but Page and Plant say they never watched or heard Spirit’s performances.
The band’s defense relied largely on the fact that the descending musical figure central to the case has been used countless times in musical compositions over the past 300 years. The defense presented an extensive list of songs that use the passage or one similar to it, including “My Funny Valentine” and the opening to the Beatles’ 1965 song “Michelle.”
Plaintiff attorney Francis Malofiy had sought one-third writing credit on “Stairway to Heaven” for Wolfe and a financial settlement for royalties earned by the song since 2011. “Stairway to Heaven” has earned more than $550 million in royalties since it was released in 1971, but statute of limitations prevented Malofiy from requesting a portion of royalties before 2011, or three years before the last reissue of the recording. “Stairway to Heaven” is featured on Led Zeppelin IV and was among the tracks reissued in 2014 when Led Zeppelin presented remastered versions of its catalog albums.