LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — Led Zeppelin did not steal the opening guitar riff of its classic hit "Stairway to Heaven" from an obscure tune by the defunct Los Angeles group Spirit, a federal jury decided Thursday.
Jurors had begun deliberating on the case Wednesday afternoon. The jury asked Thursday morning to review the video showing a plaintiff's musicologist playing the roughly two-minute guitar intro to "Stairway" and the Spirit song "Taurus."
Attorney Francis Malofiy -- representing the administrator of the trust of Randy Wolfe, the late songwriter and guitarist who worked under the name Randy California with the band Spirit -- alleges that Page and Plant crossed paths with Spirit while on the road and were familiar with the Los Angeles band's music, particularly the group's 1968 album track "Taurus," which the lawyer claims became the basis for the two-minute, 14-second acoustic guitar intro to "Stairway."
Malofiy said his clients wanted one-third credit, urging the jury to assign damages between $3.4 million and $13.5 million.
He said he was sad and disappointed by the jury's decision.
"The reality is that we proved access, but they could never hear what they had access to," Malofiy said. "It's bizarre."
In trying to show the works were substantially similar, the trust had the tricky task of relying on sheet music because that's what is filed with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Jurors were not played the "Taurus" recording, which contains a section that sounds very similar to the instantly recognizable start of "Stairway." Instead, they were played guitar and piano renditions by musicians on both sides of the case. Not surprisingly, the plaintiff's version on guitar sounded more like "Stairway" than the defense version on piano.
Defense attorney Peter Anderson told the panel the plaintiff never proved that the trust owned the copyright to "Stairway" or that Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were familiar with "Taurus" or that Page and Plant had ever heard Spirit perform in the few times the bands shared a concert bill in 1968 and 1969.
The suit was lodged on behalf of Michael Skidmore, administrator of Wolfe's trust. The songwriter drowned in 1997 off the coast of Hawaii.
Defendants include Page and Plant, both of whom testified during the trial, and three companies involved in the Led Zeppelin catalog. Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones also spent about 15 minutes on the witness stand, although he is not party to the lawsuit.
The case is not the first time Led Zeppelin was accused of swiping another artist's work. The lawsuit listed at least six other songs in which the band reached settlements over songwriting credits for works including "Whole Lotta Love," ''The Lemon Song," and "Dazed and Confused."
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