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Led Zeppelin wins 'Stairway to Heaven' case

October 6, 2020

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear a copyright case against the band, ending a yearslong legal dispute. The Led Zeppelin case has had a wide impact on other musicians facing their own copyright claims.

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
Image: Imago Images/Everett Collection

British rock band Led Zeppelin effectively won a long-running legal battle on Monday over claims that they stole the opening guitar riff for their classic song "Stairway to Heaven."

The US Supreme Court declined to take up a copyright case against the band, meaning a decision made in March this year by a US appeals court will stand.  

The lower court in California court ruled that Led Zeppelin had not copied musician Randy Wolfe in the opening guitar riff to the song. 

The Supreme Court's move to not take up the case has effectively ended the legal challenge, which could have had massive effects on the music industry.

Long-running case

The case was originally filed in 2014 by the estate of musician Randy Wolfe; Wolfe died in 1997 and never took legal action. Wolfe's band, Spirit, had Led Zeppelin as an opening act during the British band's first US tour in 1968. The song in question was written in 1971.

Experts called by the plaintiffs in lower courts said there were substantial similarities between Spirit's song "Taurus" and "Stairway to Heaven." But defensive witnesses said the chord progression in Led Zeppelin's song was so common that copyright did not apply.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page said in a 2016 jury trial in Los Angeles that he had not heard "Taurus" until recently.

The US appeals court decision had an impact beyond classic rock music. It was also key in ending a similar six-year copyright case involving pop star Katy Perry and her song "Dark Horse."

The Led Zeppelin decision prompted a judge to throw out the verdict in the Perry case, clearing her of charges that she copied Christian rapper Flame.

kbd/rs (AFP, Reuters)