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Court rules Led Zeppelin did not plagiarize riff for "Stairway to Heaven"

Led Zeppelin did not steal the opening guitar riff for its iconic song "Stairway to Heaven," a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of appeals affirmed a decision by a Los Angeles jury in 2016.

Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin were accused of plagiarizing the 1968 song "Taurus" by the band Spirit. The lawsuit claimed the two were familiar with the song because Spirit and Led Zeppelin were on the same bill for several shows in 1968 and 1969. "Stairway to Heaven" was released in 1971.

"It is undisputed that Spirit and Led Zeppelin crossed paths in the late 1960s and the early 1970s," the court said in a 72-page ruling Monday cited by CBS Los Angeles. "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.'" 

Attorney Francis Malofiy, who represented the estate of Spirit's lead singer and songwriter Randy Wolfe, wanted Wolfe to receive a songwriting credit and be awarded damages between $3.4 million and $13.5 million. 

"The reality is that we proved access, but they could never hear what they had access to," Malofiy said in 2016. "It's bizarre."

Page, Plant and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones all testified at the original trial, although Jones was not involved in the lawsuit. The jury was not allowed to hear recordings of either "Stairway to Heaven" or "Taurus" as the lawsuit was over a copyright claim and only the sheet music is filed with with the U.S. Copyright Office. Instead, musicians played the intro to "Stairway to Heaven" on a guitar and "Taurus" on a piano.

A three-judge panel threw out the 2016 decision on the grounds the trial judge gave the jury faulty instructions, according to CBS Los Angeles. This led to Monday's full-panel hearing.

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