Led Zeppelin win six year-long Stairway To Heaven copyright case
The copyright dispute over Stairway To Heaven has come to a close, with Led Zeppelin emerging the victors of a six-year-long legal battle involving the estate of Spirit frontman Randy Wolfe.
On Monday (5 October), the US Supreme Court declined to hear the case – petitioned for by Wolfe’s estate in August to overturn the March 2020 ruling by the Ninth US Circuit Court Of Appeals.
The March 2020 ruling upheld the original 2016 trial verdict, finding that Stairway To Heaven did not infringe on Spirit’s Taurus as the musical elements shared by both songs were too basic to be protected by copyright law.
The original trial was filed back in 2014 by journalist Michael Skidmore on behalf of Wolfe’s estate. Lawyers for Wolfe’s estate argued that Led Zeppelin became familiar with Taurus when the two bands shared a bill at a Birmingham club in 1970; Stairway to Heaven was released a year later on Led Zeppelin IV.
Guitarist Jimmy Page testified then that he was completely unaware of the Spirit tune until the early 2010s, after finding comparisons of Taurus and Stairway To Heaven online.
“I knew I had never heard it before,” Page told the court. “Something like that would have stuck in my mind. I would remember that.”
While Page’s testimony was rejected by the jury, musicologists argued that the descending chord motif was a common musical device found in music for centuries. One expert cited Chim Chim Cher-ee from the Disney film Mary Poppins as also having employed the same musical device.
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