Led Zeppelin prevails in ‘Stairway’ copyright suit

| Jun 28, 2016 | Copyright Law

In an update to our previous post, the jury in the copyright infringement lawsuit against members of legendary rock band Led Zeppelin found that the defendants did not steal a portion of “Stairway to Heaven” from another band.

The verdict may end, at least from a legal perspective, one of the longest-running controversies in rock history. It may also save the owners of the copyright to “Stairway,” singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, millions of dollars in royalties and licensing fees.

As we discussed back on June 17, the estate of the lead guitarist for the band Spirit sued Page and Plant for copyright infringement. The estate alleged that the defendants lifted opening acoustic passage to “Stairway” from portions of a Spirit song called “Taurus.” The trustee for the estate sought a portion of a $60 million publishing deal the defendants signed with Warner Music.

At trial, Page and Plant denied having heard “Taurus” before composing “Stairway.” They contended that the opening passage to their song is based on traditional cord progressions.

In the end, The New York Times reports, the jury concluded that Page and Plant had “access” to “Taurus” before writing “Stairway.” However, after twice listening to recordings of both songs during deliberations, jurors agreed that the songs were not similar enough for there to be a copyright infringement.

The Times reports that the late Spirit guitarist had long complained that Led Zeppelin had stolen his song, but never took legal action. A Supreme Court decision extending the statute of limitations for many copyright claims led to this suit.