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Led Zeppelin wins landmark decision in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ trial

Led Zeppelin
The reunion Led Zeppelin fans have been clamoring for arrived, but it wasn’t what most concertgoers were expecting — it took place in a courtroom.

After a weeklong trial, a Los Angeles federal court handed down a decision in favor of the band in a massive copyright case, in which Zeppelin was accused of lifting the intro to iconic ballad Stairway to Heaven from a song by the band Spirit called Taurus, as reported by Pitchfork.

For the past week, the remaining members of the legendary blues/rock band — Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones — have been awaiting a decision in the nearly two-year-long case. The lawsuit was originally filed in May of 2014 by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California), claiming Zeppelin stole the classic guitar line that begins their monster hit.

The plaintiff was seeking $40 million for the alleged copyright infringement. Throughout the contentious trial, both Page and Plant claimed they had never heard the song in question, testifying in open court alongside Skidmore, musicologists, experts, and a former Spirit band member. According to Rolling Stone, live performances of the two songs rather than the recordings of the songs themselves were presented as evidence. Throughout the proceedings the music was played back on both guitar and piano for the jury.

The trial, which has been decades in the making, was something Randy Wolfe never mounted any attempts to pursue himself, according to Billboard. A statute of limitations of just three years had long since passed by the time the case made it to court; the original version of Stairway was laid down in 1971, as reported by Rolling Stone. Instead, Skidmore’s case involved a recent remastering of the song released in 2014.

After a week of testimony, music, and back and forth between plaintiff and defendants — in which Page reportedly recanted his original story of how Stairway was actually written — the jury decided that the plaintiff did indeed own the rights to the song Taurus, and that Led Zeppelin members had heard the song. But the similarities between the two were not substantial enough to award the decision for the plaintiff. After a final listen to each song, the jury took just 30 minutes to make the decision, Billboard reported.

This is far from the first such incident involving Led Zeppelin. The band has settled at least five different lawsuits for song similarities throughout its extensive catalog, including hits like Dazed and Confused and Whole Lotta Love.

The band’s current label, Warner Music, presented a statement after the favorable outcome: “We are pleased that the jury found in favor of Led Zeppelin, re-affirming the true origins of Stairway to Heaven. Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands in history, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are peerless songwriters who created many of rock’s most influential and enduring songs.”

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