Trial of a copyright infringement lawsuit involving Led Zeppelin’s iconic rock-era anthem “Stairway to Heaven” is scheduled to begin Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles.
The lawsuit alleges that the descending guitar arpeggio opening of “Stairway,” released 45 years ago, was lifted from the 1968 instrumental “Taurus,” recorded by the long-defunct Los Angeles band Spirit. The suit was lodged on behalf of Michael Skidmore, administrator of the trust of Spirit’s late guitarist-songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe, known as Randy California. Wolfe drowned in 1997 off the coast of Hawaii.
Defendants include Led Zeppelin band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and three companies involved in the Led Zeppelin catalog. Jury selection in the case before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner is set to start Tuesday morning.
Last week, the judge denied a plaintiff’s motion to compel the attendance of Page and Plant, but their attorneys previously stated the duo would attend proceedings. Klausner previously ruled that the jury trial would last less than a week and attorneys would have no more than 10 hours per side to present evidence. If Page and Plant do not show up to testify in court, video depositions, filmed in the United Kingdom, would instead be shown to the jury. The trust’s attorney, Francis Malofiy, alleges in court papers that Page first heard key guitar parts later used in “Stairway” when Spirit performed “Taurus” on stage when they headlined over Zeppelin on the British band’s first United States tour in 1968.
The suit alleges that Led Zeppelin has “a deep-rooted history of lifting compositions from blues artists and other songwriters who they have repeatedly failed to credit.”
In the 1970s, the band made settlement agreements and granted writing co- credits to other artists for several songs originally credited to Page, including “Whole Lotta Love,” “The Lemon Song” and “Dazed and Confused.”
“Attribution is the most important thing,” Malofiy recently told City News Service. “What we want is for credit to be given where it’s due. I’m a fan of Led Zeppelin, but in this situation, we want credit for Randy.”
In the liner notes to a 1996 reissue of Spirit’s first album, Wolfe stated that “people always ask me why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sounds exactly like ‘Taurus,’ which was released two years earlier. … They opened up for us on their first American tour.”
In a six-page declaration filed with the court, Page said he didn’t hear, or had even heard of, the 2-minute, 37-second “Taurus’ until two years ago.
“I am very good at remembering music and am absolutely certain that I never heard ‘Taurus’ until 2014,” the guitarist said, adding that he has no memory of seeing Spirit perform in concert.
—City News Service