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Posted on Monday, June 20, 2016

Trial Underway in Stairway to Heaven Lawsuit

Trial is underway in a U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, where the legendary British rock band Led Zeppelin has been sued for money damages and writer credits for the band’s iconic megahit “Stairway to Heaven.” In 2014, the estate of guitarist Randy California, a founding member of the band Spirit, filed a lawsuit claiming that Stairway’s iconic introduction was lifted directly from Spirit’s song “Taurus,” which Led Zeppelin allegedly heard while opening for Spirit on several concerts in the late 1960s.Unable to dismiss the case on summary judgment, the band found itself in court this week, with guitarist Jimmy Page taking the witness stand for an hours-long grilling by plaintiff’s counsel. Page’s testimony centered on plaintiff’s counsel’s attempts to demonstrate Led Zeppelin’s familiarity with Spirit’s music, as well as any personal contact between the bands. Surprisingly, Page testified that he never heard Taurus until something appeared on the internet just a few years ago drawing attention to the comparison between Taurus and Stairway. Page further testified that, concerning a 1969 concert in Denver on which both Zeppelin and Spirit performed, he didn’t even know he was opening for Spirit; Page believed that Zeppelin was opening for Vanilla Fudge, another rock band. Additionally, he recalled that the members of Led Zeppelin left the venue immediately after their opening set in order to get to another performance the next day.

As trial continues to unfold, the legal battle surrounding one of the most iconic songs of all time appears to get more and more contentious. We can likely look forward to more colorful witness testimony, including from lead singer Robert Plant, and musicians everywhere should be keeping a close watch to see if the plaintiffs are ultimately successful in rewriting rock and roll history by having Randy California included as a writer on Stairway to Heaven.

Frank Gulino is an award-winning composer and attorney with Berenzweig Leonard, LLP. He can be reached at FGulino@BerenzweigLaw.com.

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