The Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven” is nearly 50 years old but the plagiarism case that has been haunting it has been raging on for many years. Recently, due to a Supreme Court ruling, it has finally been brought to an end.
The band was first accused of plagiarism back in 2014 when the band Spirit claimed that the opening riff of the Zeppelin song was stolen from their song “Taurus”.
In 2016, the court ruled in Led Zeppelin’s favor, but the case was reopened in 2018. The court once again ruled in the band’s favor but the plaintiffs attmepted to revive it once again. The Supreme Court responded refusing to hear the case ending it once and for all.
Stairway to Heaven is one of the most popular songs in rock n’ roll history. With millions of dollars at stake, the lawsuit was one of the music industry’s most closely watched disputes. The song has racked up 3.4 million pounds in royalties with 2.6 million pounds of that money generated since the case was opened.
Journalist Michael Skidmore originally took legal action in 2014 on behalf of late Spirit frontman Randy Wolf. Lawyers for Wolf’s estate claimed Zeppelin singer Robert Plant became familiar with the song when he heard it at a Spirit gig that he attended at a club in Birmingham in 1970, a year before Stairway to Heaven was released.
During the original trial, Spirit bassist Mark Andes testified that he met Plant at the show and hung out with him afterwards. Plant says he has no memory of the night because he and his wife were involved in a car crash on the way home. Apparently the car left both of them with head injuries after the windscreen of the Jaguar they were riding in smashed into the singer’s face.
Guitarist Jimmy Page says he never heard the song until people started posting it online to point out comparisons in 2010. “I knew I had never heard that before,” the guitarist claims. “It was totally alien to me.”
The jury rejected Page and Plant’s arguments. However, what swayed the case was the testimony of musicologists who pointed out that the descending musical pattern has been commonly used in music for centuries. One example was cited in the song, “Chim Chere” from the1964 Disney musical classic “Mary Poppins”.
Ultimately, it was ruled that the songs were “not intrinsically similar”. However, the fact that the jury was not permitted to listen to the Spirit song during the case as well as other alleged errors led to an appeal.
The arguments were considered, but in March of 2018, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the original verdict stating that the errors did not warrant a new trial.
It is unclear why the plaintiffs wanted to open the case yet again, but the Supreme Court rejected their requests and the issue is now officially closed.