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Led Zeppelin Did Not Lift 'Stairway To Heaven' Riff, Appeals Court Rules

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Led Zeppelin did not steal the opening guitar riff of the band's song "Stairway to Heaven" from the defunct Los Angeles group Spirit, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

An 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the June 2016 decision by a Los Angeles jury that rejected the copyright lawsuit alleging that Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant crossed paths with late songwriter and guitarist Randy Wolfe, known as Randy California with the band Spirit.

The suit claimed Page and Plant were familiar with Spirit's music, particularly the group's 1968 album track "Taurus."

Led Zeppelin Lawsuit
(credit: Bill Robles)

Attorney Francis Malofiy, who represented Wolfe, claimed "Taurus" 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.

During the 2016 trail, a federal jury declined to award any damages following a six-day legal battle in downtown Los Angeles that included Led Zeppelin surviving members Page, Plant and bassist John Paul Jones.

Page and Plant both testified during the trial along with three companies involved in the Led Zeppelin catalog. Jones also spent about 15 minutes on the witness stand, although he was not part of the lawsuit.

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.

A three-judge 9th Circuit panel later threw out the verdict on the grounds the trial judge gave faulty jury instructions, leading to a rehearing before a full panel of judges in San Francisco.

"It is undisputed that Spirit and Led Zeppelin crossed paths in the late 1960s and the early 1970s," according to the new 72-page ruling. "The bands performed at the same venue at least three times between 1968 and 1970. Led Zeppelin also performed a cover of a Spirit song, `Fresh Garbage.' But there is no direct evidence that the two bands toured together, or that Led Zeppelin band members heard Spirit perform `Taurus."'

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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