The “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarism trial is back from the dead

Here we go again.

A couple of years ago, a California judge threw out a claim that Led Zeppelin (specifically Jimmy Page) plagiarized a song called “Taurus” from one-time tourmates Spirit to write “Stairway to Heaven” and make hundreds of millions of dollars.

The lawyers for the estate of Randy California, the age name of the late leader of Spirit (real name: Randy Wolfe), were pretty much laughed out of court on their first attempt at seeking damages. They vowed to appeal–and they did.

On Friday (September 28), the 9th circuit court of appeals has this to say: “The panel vacated in part the district court’s judgment after a jury trial in favor of the defendants and remanded for a new trial in a copyright infringement suit alleging that Led Zeppelin copied ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from the song ‘Taurus,’ written by Spirit band member Randy Wolfe.”

The court documents go on to rebuke the judge in the original trial (example: “[J]ury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial.”) and call for the matter to be raised again.

Just so we’re clear on what’s being debated here, this is Spirit’s “Taurus.” The issue is the guitar arpeggio, with the allegation that Page copped that for the arpeggio in “Stairway to Heaven.”

All the guitar players I’ve talked to say this is nonsense since an arpeggio is a standard sort of guitar figure that goes back centuries.

What a circus. Read more about what’s going on the case at The Wrap.


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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