Here’s the Latest Fun Twist on the “Stairway to Heaven” Plagiarism Charge

Barring any kind of out-of-court settlement (which I’m told is highly unlikely), jury selection starts May 10 for the LA-based trial of Spirit vs. Led Zeppelin. Did Jimmy Page rip off Spirit’s “Taurus” for the opening arpeggios of “Stairway to Heaven?” At stake is an undetermined share of the future revenues of “Stairway,” a song that has already earned more than $500 million on royalties. Needless to say, the case is attracting a lot of interest.

For example, will the jury hear about Jimmy Page’s “serial plagiarism?” And what about the allegations that the musical passages in question may have originated not with Spirit but with Davy Thompson, a British performer of the late 1950s?

And now, a new question:  Could “Stairway to Heaven” actually be in the public domain?

Digital Music News (which has been all over this story) points to a 16th-century baroque composition written for strings by Giovanni Battista Granata. Take a listen to this paying particular attention to the melody we hear around the 32-second mark.

Interesting, no? Defense counsel should jump all over this, pointing out that the contentious bits in “Stairway” are actually more than 300 years old. It’s in the public domain!

I wonder if this argument would fly?



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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