In other important legal news today, baby boomers everywhere will not have to reevaluate their entire world view, as it has been determined that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did not steal the opening of “Stairway to Heaven” from a 1968 instrumental piece called “Taurus” by a band named Spirit.
Led Zeppelin has beaten a lawsuit claiming that the iconic guitar riff in “Stairway to Heaven” was copied from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental “Taurus.”
On Thursday, after a week’s worth of testimony and arguments, the jury came back with its verdict in a case that’s been decades in the making. At trial, Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified as well as Michael Skidmore, the Trustee of Spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe’s estate, who demanded in his lawsuit a rewriting of rock ‘n’ roll history. The jury also heard from a Spirit bandmember, musicologists and other witnesses and experts opining on such subjects as whether Led Zeppelin had heard “Taurus” before composing their popular song and whether the two songs were substantially similar.
In his lifetime, Wolfe never sued and was ambivalent about doing so upon questions from those who pointed out similarities. After the songwriter died in 1997, Skidmore asserted an ownership interest in copyrighted sheet music and was able to push the case to trial despite decades of inaction and non-cooperation from Hollenbeck Music, the publishing company that had signed Wolfe (performing as Randy California) in the 1960s as a teenager who was discovered by Jimi Hendrix.
Both Page and Plant, who denied having access to “Taurus” despite performing concerts with Spirit decades ago, were on hand to hear the reading of the verdict. In his testimony, Page rejected many questions from plaintiff attorney Francis Malofiy that the songs were too similar to be coincidental. Page did, however, alter the official story of how “Stairway” was created in 1970, puncturing the mythology that he holed himself up in a remote cottage in Wales called Bron-Yr-Aur, and wrote the tune by fireside.
Ultimately, with tens of millions of dollars in recent profits from the song’s continued exploitation on the line, the jury after less than a day’s worth of deliberation has decided in favor of Led Zeppelin and various subsidiaries of Warner Music.
The jury — eight California citizens — delivered its verdict that the plaintiff owned the copyright to “Taurus” and that Led Zeppelin members indeed heard it, but that there was no substantial similarity in the extrinsic elements of “Taurus” and “Stairway.” The decision came after the jury took one last listen of both songs. Within a half hour of doing so, the jury had made up its mind.
What’s not stated is that the jury also engaged in multiple bong hits during that fateful last listen, at which point, it all became clear. I mean, come on, what’s not clear about this?
And it’s whispered that soon, If we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn
For those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter
And here’s the whole thing, in all its overblown, over the top 1970s macho rock god glory.
So rest easy, boomers and boomettes. The status of “Stairway to Heaven” as the last song of every summer camp and high school dance from 1969-1978 remains intact.