Led Zeppelin to face a retrial for 'Stairway to Heaven' case in Federal Court

News 17/06/2019

A Federal Appeals court in San Francisco ruled this week that Led Zeppelin will need to revisit the copyright case they won in 2016 over their hit' Stairway to Heaven.'

The original lawsuit was filed in 2014 on behalf of the estate of Randy California from the 1960s classic rock band Spirit. The copyright infringement suit claimed that the opening melody of 'Stairway to Heaven' was taken from an instrumental song written by California, 'Taurus', which was released three years before 'Stairway' was released on Zeppelin's fourth album.

California's case tried to establish that Zep guitarist Jimmy Page and/or singer Robert Plant – the credited writers of 'Stairway' – had heard 'Taurus'. Page admitted that he heard and liked Spirit's second and third albums, Zeppelin had played some of Spirit's song 'Fresh-Garbage' (off the third album) live in a medley, the bands had shared bills in 1968 and '69, and Plant had been present at a 1970 club show in his hometown of Birmingham, England by Spirit. However, no firm connections were made. 

Listen to Spirit's 'Taurus' below.

In June 2016, Led Zeppelin members gave testimony in court over five days to loosen any connection between the songs. Page testified on the final day saying: "The original concept I had was for a piece of music that would basically go through many moods and changes. Robert and I were so in sync with musical composition at that time. All the time the thing is accelerating and getting more intense."

Zeppelin won the case in the trial by jury, but in September 2018, a three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals overturned the 2016 verdict that ruled in the band's favour. The appeal argued the trial was unfair because the jury could only hear an acoustic rendition of 'Taurus' instead of the original recorded version. Copyright protection at the time of composition only applied to the sheet music. 

This week, on June 10th, the Federal Appeals Court ruled that the jury should have been allowed to hear the recorded version of the Spirit song, so Led Zeppelin will now have to return to court to defend their 2016 favourable verdict.

Led Zeppelin originally won the 2016 court case over 'Stairway to Heaven'.