On This Day: Jury Concludes That Led Zeppelin Didn’t Steal the Chords to “Stairway to Heaven” in 2016

When one thinks of Led Zeppelin, one usually hears the opening of “Stairway To Heaven” in their head. Penned by guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant, “Stairway To Heaven” is considered by many to be one of the absolute greatest rock songs of all time. And its listening power is still strong today.

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Unfortunately, “Stairway To Heaven” was not without its controversy. Notably, the rock band Spirit believed that their music had been stolen and added to “Stairway To Heaven”. And they even sued Led Zeppelin over it.

The Plagiarism Court Case Comes to a Close

Around 2014, the Los Angeles rock band Spirit formally accused Led Zeppelin of using the instrumentation from their 1968 song “Taurus” in the opening of “Stairway To Heaven”. That’s a heavy accusation, but apparently Spirit had been accusing the band of plagiarism for quite some time. 

In a 1996 reissue of their album that featured “Taurus”, Spirit guitarist Randy California wrote “People always ask me why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sounds exactly like ‘Taurus’, which was released two years earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played ‘Fresh Garbage’ in their live set. They opened up for us on their first American tour.”

In 2014, Spirit bassist Mark Andes and California’s trust filed a lawsuit against the band for stealing the instrumental opening. California died in the late 1990s, and the trust sought to give California a writing credit on all future Led Zeppelin releases of the song.

It was a long and bumpy two years. But on June 24, 2016, the case finally came to a close when a US jury found that Led Zeppelin did not, in fact, steal the opening chords of “Stairway To Heaven” from Spirit. The jury determined that Spirit’s song “Taurus” was “not intrinsically similar” to the opening of “Stairway To Heaven”. 

And so, the drama was over. It’s unfortunate how often things like this happen to such lovable bands!

Photo by Chris Walter

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