Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is one of the most iconic songs in rock and roll, but now a judge says a jury should decide if part of it was plagiarized.
A Los Angeles district judge says the song resembles an instrumental song by the band Spirit.
“Stairway to Heaven” was released in 1971, but Michael Skidmore, a trustee for Spirit’s late guitarist, Randy Wolfe, says Wolfe should be given credit for the song.
Spirit toured with Led Zeppelin in the late 1960s.
Zeppelin founders, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, claim they wrote the song in a Welsh cottage, but Skidmore says the two wrote it after hearing the song “Taurus” by Spirit while the bands allegedly toured together.
“This case, from our perspective, has always been about giving credit where credit was due, and now we get to right that wrong,” Francis Malofiy, a lawyer for the plaintiff, told Reuters. An attorney for Plant and Page did not comment Monday after requests from Reuters and the Associated Press.
But there is disagreement about how much interaction took place between the bands.
“The parties present conflicting versions of the interaction between Led Zeppelin and Spirit at these three events,” the judge wrote. “The surviving members of Led Zeppelin testified that they never toured with, shared a stage with or listened to any of Spirit’s music during these brief encounters. The surviving Spirit members, on the other hand, recalled conversing with the Led Zeppelin members backstage between sets and performing in succession at two of the festivals.”
District judge Gary Klausner said there was a “substantial” similarity between the two songs, particularly the first two minutes of “Stairway to Heaven.”
"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," Judge Klausner ruled, according to the BBC.
He added a jury would be better at deciding during a trial expected to start May 10.
Even if a jury rules against Led Zeppelin, Skidmore could only recoup half of any damages awarded due to a contract Wolfe signed in 1967, the BBC reported.