Judge Denies Led Zeppelin's Motion to End Stairway to Heaven Trial Early

Posted on June 20, 2016

The Stairway to Heaven copyright infringement trial continues in Los Angeles after a judge refused to grant Led Zeppelin's motion for summary judgment in their favor after the plaintiff presented its case. The band is being sued for allegedly stealing the famous intro to the 1971 hit "Stairway to Heaven" from the 1967 instrumental song "Taurus" by the band Spirit. The lawsuit is being prosecuted by the estate of Randy Wolfe who wrote "Taurus."

This case is different from the "Blurred Lines" lawsuit in that Led Zeppelin musicians Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones deny they ever heard the song "Taurus" and say they were not aware of it. In the "Blurred Lines" case, Robin Thicke, T.I. Harris and Pharrell Williams stipulated they were familiar with the Marvin Gaye song they were accused of copying so that defense was not available to them.

The Guardian reports that in this case, Jimmy Page has denied stealing the chord progression and using it as the intro to "Stairway." The case has drawn quite a bit of attention as the British rock legends have been in court every day and have testified vigorously in their defense. Jimmy Page testified that he had first heard the song Taurus when this lawsuit was brought. He testified that the chord sequence "has been around forever" and pointed out that the chromatic structure of the guitar riff is found in many other songs, including one of his favorites, "Chim Chim Cher-ee" from the 1964 Disney film Mary Poppins.

The band's expert Lawrence Ferrara testified that the only similarity between the two songs is a "descending chromatic minor line progression" which has been used for 300 years. His point was that thee chord progression has been used for hundreds of years and is a common, uncopyrightable element. There is a great deal of money at stake here. Led Zeppelin has made an estimated $58.5 million from "Stairway to Heaven." This case will turn on 1) whether that chord progression is considered a unique, copyrightable element according to the expert witnesses; and 2) if the jury believes Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones' testimony that they were not familiar with the song "Taurus" and certainly never stole that chord progression.

Stephen Colbert discussed the case on The Late Show. He listened to the opening riff from "Stairway to Heaven" and from Taurus by the band Spirit. His totally unbiased conclusion: Led Zeppelin members should take their money and hide it in Panama immediately. Take a look:

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