Los Angeles – A federal jury ruled Thursday in Los Angeles that the intro of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 rock anthem Stairway to Heaven was not stolen from Spirit song Taurus. Millions of dollars were at stake in the copyright case that started when Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the songs of Spirit’s band member Randy Wolfe, filed a lawsuit in 2014. It aimed to accused Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of lifting important portions of the 1968 song Taurus for the opening riff of a hit that has earned about $500 million.

Mr. Wolfe, best known as Randy California, drowned in 1997 while trying to save his son at a Hawaiian beach. He had complained at how similar the two songs were and even talked about suing but he never actually filed a suit. Glen Kulik, a lawyer for the trust, said lawyers didn’t want to take such an old case at the time.

Led Zeppelin performing live. Credit: Rhino Youtube Channel

As soon as the Supreme Court ruled that copyright infringement cases were allowed to go forward despite long delays, the case was filed, and lawyers for Mr. Skidmore presented evidence showing that both bands had crossed paths during early tours. This means that Led Zeppelin had access to Taurus before Stairway to Heaven was released.

Music experts on Spirit’s side affirmed that both songs had a similar chord progression, and they highlighted a descending bass line in a chromatic scale, The Washington Post reported. The trust relied on expert accounts from the sheet music filed with the U.S. Copyright Office.

“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,” Page and Plant said in a statement issued by a publicist, as quoted by The Washington Post.

On the other hand, Mr. Plant and Mr. Page testified that they independently composed their original song Stairway to Heaven. They admitted that both bands had performed several times on the same bill, but they said they didn’t even remember seeing Spirit play Taurus and that they didn’t know the song until a lawsuit was brought against them. Plant made everyone laugh at court when he said he didn’t remember most people he had spent time with over the years.

The jury had no access to live performances but asked to listen to audio recordings of both intros twice and found that there were not enough similarities between the original elements contained in the two songs. Jurors also watched videos of a guitarist playing both portions in court and determined that those renditions were far too different to consider copyright infringement.

Plant, 67, and Page, 72, wore suits and their long hair were pulled back in ponytails. They hugged their lawyers after the announcement in their favor.

“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 described the jury’s decision as disappointing, according to The Washington Post. “It’s bizarre.”

Led Zeppelin’s members recalled the stories of their song’s creation

Page said he wanted to create a piece of art that would accelerate to a crescendo and he first performed the opening in 1970 at Headley Grange with Jones as he wanted to get an ally in his original idea.

For his part, Plant told he was sitting by the fire when he heard Page play the beginning of the song on acoustic guitar. Plant added that he suggested his fellow band member a couplet he had been creating: “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold/and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

Malofiy, who said the trust was considering an appeal, criticized the way the Led Zeppelin musicians selected their memories and revealed “convenient” truths.

The lawyer for the rock stars said the trust was not able to prove a case that should have been brought when his clients would have probably had better memories and Wolfe was alive. Peter Anderson said it was odd to wait 45 years to criticize others for their work, The Washington Post reported.

Not the first time Led Zeppelin is accused of copyright violations

Led Zeppelin has settled at least six separate cases accusing them of copyright infringement, including Whole Lotta Love, Dazed and Confused, and The Lemon Song. However, Steven L. Weinberg, a copyright lawyer who watched the latest case, told The Washington Post that Stairway to Heaven marked the first case the band took all the way to trial.

Page and Plant, whose bodyguards accompanied everywhere, declined to have any contact with fans in the gallery. A group of women only received a flash smile from Page one afternoon as the musicians crossed the courthouse corridor.

The trial marked the second major to implicate the music world and copyright, according to a report by The New York Times. The first one involved Marvin Gaye’s 2013 hit Blurred Lines. Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had to pay $5.3 million to Gaye’s family. That case has been appealed and has led to an interesting debate over the limits of copyright protection in the music industry, including issues related to song’s overall feel’s crossing the boundary into violations of someone else’s work.

Source: Washington Post