LOS ANGELES—Led Zeppelin did not steal a riff from an obscure 1960s instrumental tune to use for the introduction of its classic rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven,” a federal court jury decided yesterday.
The verdict in L.A. settles a point that music fans have debated for decades but didn’t find its way to court until two years ago, when the trustee for the late Randy Craig Wolfe filed a copyright lawsuit.
The trust claimed that Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page lifted a passage that Wolfe, better known as Randy California, wrote for “Taurus,” a short work he recorded with his band Spirit in 1968.
Jurors found the trust had cleared a few hurdles, including that Page and singer Robert Plant had “access” to “Taurus,” meaning they would have been familiar with it.
Trust attorney Francis Malofiy said he was sad and disappointed by the jury’s decision.
“The reality is that we proved access, but they could never hear what they had access to,” Malofiy noted.
In trying to show the works were substantially similar, the trust had the tricky task of relying on sheet music because that’s what is filed with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Jurors were not played the “Taurus” recording, which contains a section that sounds very similar to the instantly recognizable start of “Stairway.”
Instead, they were played guitar and piano renditions by musicians on both sides of the case.