A federal jury quickly sided with Led Zeppelin on Thursday in a lawsuit that alleged the band stole its opening riff to the 1971 classic “Stairway to Heaven” from a song by the band Spirit.
After a six-day trial in Los Angeles, the eight jurors ultimately decided that while there was a reasonable chance guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant had heard Spirit’s “Taurus” before writing the song, and could have conceivably lifted the riff, the two songs were not “substantially similar” enough to suggest copyright infringement. The decision came after the jury took one last listen to both songs. Within a half hour of doing so, the jury had made up its mind.
At trial, Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified, as well as Michael Skidmore, the Trustee of Spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe’s (aka Randy California) estate.
Randy Wolfe never sued and was ambivalent about doing so even with questions from others who pointed out some similarities. After he died in 1997, Trustee Skidmore asserted an ownership interest in copyrighted sheet music and was able to push the case to trial despite decades of inaction and non-cooperation from Hollenbeck Music, the publishing company that signed Randy Wolfe (performing as Randy California) in the 1960s as a teenager after being discovered by Jimi Hendrix.
After the verdict, Page and Plant put out a joint statement. “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,” they said. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”