Led Zeppelin Wins ‘Stairway to Heaven' Copyright Case

Yes, there were two paths jurors could go by, but in the long run they sided with Led Zeppelin in a closely watched copyright lawsuit

A jury on Thursday ruled against plaintiffs who alleged that Led Zeppelin swiped part of a little-known instrumental by the 1960s group Spirit and used it for the intro to their rock classic "Stairway to Heaven."

Millions of dollars in past and future "Stairway" royalties were at stake in the closely watched music copyright trial. Some reports estimate the song, with its signature opening guitar arpeggio, has earned more than $500 million.

The jury declined to award any damages, ending the legal battle that included testimony from band members and musical passages played for jurors in court.

In a statement released after the annoucement, Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page said they are pleased the case is over.

"We are grateful for the jury's conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of 'Stairway to Heaven' and confirming what we have known for 45 years," according to the statement. "We appreciate our fans' support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us."

The panel began deliberations Wednesday and asked Thursday to review a video showing a plaintiff's musicologist playing the roughly 2-minute guitar intro to "Stairway" and the song "Taurus" by a now-defunct band called Spirit.

Some jurors closed their eyes or stared at the floor, appearing to focus on the songs. Jurors continued deliberations later Thursday, then returned minutes after hearing the songs to announce the verdict, clearing Led Zeppelin of wrongdoing.

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were called to the witness stand during the five-day proceeding in Los Angeles and denied allegations they stole the famous opening to one of rock's best-known songs. An attorney for Page and Plant concluded the defense's case by playing for the jury excerpts from Page's own 46-year-old work tapes revealing the development of "Stairway," ending his case by presenting the finished version.

Page swayed, tapped his fingers along with the beat and smiled as his band's multimillion-selling signature song rang out in the austere 60-seat courtroom.

Plant testified earlier that he recalled writing the opening stanzas of "Stairway" in 1970 as he and Page sat by a fireplace in an English country manor house where the band recorded and rehearsed.

The lawsuit alleged that the guitar arpeggio was lifted from Randy Wolfe's 1968 instrumental "Taurus," from Spirit's debut album. The suit was lodged in 2014 on behalf of Michael Skidmore, administrator of Wolfe's trust. Known as Randy California — a moniker given him by pal Jimi Hendrix — Wolfe drowned in 1997 off the coast of Hawaii.

Dollar amounts ranging from $3.5 million to $58 million have been bandied about, but David Woirhaye, the chief financial officer of Rhino Entertainment — which markets and distributes the Led Zeppelin catalog — testified that "Stairway" has grossed $3.4 million during the five-year statutory period at issue in the case.

"At Warner Music Group, supporting our artists and protecting their creative freedom is paramount," Warner Music Group said in a statement. "We are pleased that the jury found in favor of Led Zeppelin, re-affirming the true origins of "Stairway to Heaven." Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands in history, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are peerless songwriters who created many of rock's most influential and enduring songs."

During five days of trial, Page, Plant and Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones told the eight-member jury that they have no recollection of hearing Spirit perform in concert or of hearing "Taurus" before Zeppelin wrote and recorded "Stairway."

Skidmore's attorney spent much of last week trying to show that Page was familiar with Spirit's music, owned the record that featured "Taurus" and had discussed the band in interviews. Jurors found the trust had proven Page and Plant had "access" to "Taurus," meaning they would have been familiar with it -- something they denied on the witness stand.

"The reality is that we proved access, but (the jury) could never hear what (Page and Plant) had access to," said trust attorney Francis Malofiy, who called the verdict sad and disappointing. "It's bizarre."

In closing arguments, Malofiy criticized Page and Plant's "selective" memories and "convenient" truths.

Musicologists called by the plaintiffs said that there were substantial similarities between key parts of the two songs. Experts hired by the defense, however, testified that the chord pattern used in the intro to "Stairway" was so "commonplace" that it doesn't deserve a copyright.

The Led Zeppelin classic first appeared on the band's untitled fourth album in 1971.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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