On May 31st, the estate of Randy California, late guitarist for the 1960s rock band Spirit, filed a lawsuit against the members of Led Zeppelin and their label in a Pennsylvania court. The crime? Allegedly stealing portions of 1971’s iconic “Stairway To Heaven” from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental track “Taurus.” Among several accusations of plagiarism and claims for compensatory damages, one of the stated causes for action in this case is the “Falsification of Rock and Roll History.” Common rock and roll lore contends that “Stairway To Heaven” was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant during a retreat to the remote Welsh cottage Bron-Yr-Aur in 1970, but the prosecution claims that much of the song was taken directly from Spirit’s “Taurus” while Page and Plant opened for California’s band several years earlier in Led Zeppelin’s career. Behind The Song: Led Zeppelin, “Stairway To Heaven” Prior to his death in 1997, California (born Randy Craig Wolfe) told Listener magazine that portions of “Stairway To Heaven” were taken from Spirit songs, and continued on to say “The guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?'” The prosecution has also pointed to Jimmy Page’s statement that Spirit’s performances during the bands’ string of performances together in 1968 and 1969 affected him “on an emotional level” and claim that the experience served as inspiration for subsequent works.
In the suit, which looks as if it is designed to mirror the album art of Zeppelin IV, the prosecution provides a list of 17 Led Zeppelin songs that have been claimed to infringe upon the copyrighted works of Spirit and other artists. The case also claims that “Any reasonable observer, when comparing ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ must conclude that — at the very least — significant portions of the songs are nearly identical.” Led Zeppelin has largely declined to comment on the case, but Jimmy Page has previously told the French newspaper Liberation that the claims of plagiarism concerning “Stairway To Heaven” are “ridiculous.” There is not currently a court date set to settle the 43 year long dispute, but prosecuting attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy already has his hands tied with sanctions recently issued against him for actions taken in an infringement case against R&B artist Usher. What do you think? Is Led Zeppelin’s hit actually a rip-off? Compare the two songs below: