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Led Zeppelin plagiarism case gets underway

By | Published on Wednesday 15 June 2016

Led Zeppelin

So, the big ‘Stairway To Heaven’ plagiarism case got underway in the US yesterday, with a jury selected pretty damn quickly, though there was enough time to remove a self-declared Led Zeppelin fan who said that their “love for these guys” is “very strong”. Opening statements were also delivered.

As previously reported, the Zeppelin are accused of ripping off a song written by the late Randy California, aka Randy Craig Wolfe, with their famous work ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Led Zep toured with Wolfe’s band Spirit in the late 1960s which – the lawsuit filed against them claims – is when they were exposed to his song ‘Taurus’. The litigation, filed on behalf of the Wolfe Trust, claims that the band then lifted elements of ‘Taurus’ when writing their hit.

Speaking for the Trust and trustee Michael Skidmore, legal man Francis Malofiy kick-started the proceedings yesterday by declaring that the mantra of this case was “give credit where credit is due”. He then bigged up the musicianship and performance skills of Led Zeppers Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, but only so he could then question their skills as songwriters, alleging that the band really became famous by covering other people’s work and “making it their own”.

He then wheeled out a video featuring a man playing the beginning of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and the bassline of ‘Taurus’ on an acoustic guitar, in a bid to demonstrate just how similar they are. Though, according to The Hollywood Reporter, that video led to an early objection from Led Zep’s lawyer Peter Anderson who said it hadn’t been included on the official evidence list for the court hearing. Which, judge R Gary Klausner admitted, could be sufficient an error to declare a mistrial.

Though Anderson is yet to call for such a declaration, instead using his opening statement to outline the arguments he plans to present over the next week. He started off by pointing out that this litigation was coming so long after the fact – ‘Stairway To Heaven’ was released in 1971 – that many key witnesses are no longer alive and important documents have been lost. He then alleged that the Wolfe Trust only received royalties from ‘Taurus’ because they were “surreptitiously denied to his son”.

As for the copyright law, Anderson argued that – even if jurors hear a similarity between the two songs, which they almost certainly will – those similarities are the result of the two works using the same ‘musical building blocks’ that sit outside copyright protection. And, he went on, it’s known Spirit often covered the 1965 Beatles track ‘Michelle’ which, hey, also uses similar chord progressions to the later composed ‘Taurus’.

So there you go. Page and Plant are both expected to testify in the case, along with Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and his counterpart in Spirit, Mark Andes. The case continues.