It’s official – Led Zeppelin did not rip-off their classic ‘Stairway To Heaven’ song from Randy California’s Spirit, that’s according to a US appeals court who reinstated a ruling to that effect on Monday.
The San Francisco 11-judge panel affirmed a 2016 judgment that found no proof the classic 1971 Zeppelin song breached the copyright of Taurus. That ruling was overturned in 2018 by a three-judge panel in San Francisco, which said certain instructions to the district court jury had been “erroneous and prejudicial”, and failed to clarify that the arrangement of elements in the public domain could be considered original.
Led Zeppelin took the case to a larger panel who made a decision on Monday, based on the 1909 Copyright Act, to put the original ruling back in place.
Music expert Lawrence Ferrara, who testified three years ago that the only similarity between Taurus and Stairway to Heaven was a “descending chromatic minor line progression, a musical element that was used 300 years ago, as well as in many pop songs since then”.
Randy California’s trustee, Michael Skidmore, said the songs had similar chord progressions and Jimmy Page may have written ‘Stairway To Heaven’ after hearing ‘Taurus’ while Led Zeppelin and Spirit toured together in the early 1970s.
The trustee’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy said: “Obviously the court got it wrong. This is a big loss for creators, those who copyright laws are meant to protect.”
Malofiy, who racked up more than a hundred sustained objections and multiple admonishments from Judge R Gary Klausner in the 2016 trial, said he may appeal to the US supreme court, while lawyers for Led Zeppelin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The ‘Stairway To Heaven’ case has been one of the music industry’s longest-running and closely-watched disputes.
Randy California sadly passed away in 1997.