"Stairway to Heaven" still stands.
After five days of testimony and less than a full day of deliberations, the four-man, four-woman jury in a California federal court ruled Thursday that Led Zeppelin's 1971 track — not to mention a lasting legacy of rock n roll — was not a rip-off of Spirit's "Taurus."
In a unanimous vote at Los Angeles' Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, a jury denied the copyright infringement claim filed by Michael Skidmore, a representative for the trust of Spirit guitarist and "Taurus" writer Randy Wolfe, and Spirit bassist Mark Andes.
The lawsuit, which was filed last year, argued that the opening of "Stairway to Heaven" — a Renaissance-style acoustic guitar riff in a descending chromatic scale — was pulled from "Taurus," which was released three years before.
While the jury ruled that Page and Plant had access to "Taurus" — which they had denied in testimony — it also ruled that the songs were not similar enough to qualify as an infringement.
During the trial, a former Spirit member testified that Led Zeppelin performed at the same show with Spirit in Denver in December of 1968, and a witness testified that he saw Plant at a Spirit show at Mother's Club in Birmingham in 1970, before the release of "Stairway to Heaven."
"We are grateful for the jury's conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of 'Stairway to Heaven' and confirming what we have known for 45 years," Led Zeppelin said in a statement. "We appreciate our fans' support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us."
Plaintiff's attorney Francis Malofiy said "we are sad and disappointed but obviously we have to respect the jury's decision."
Despite the ubiquity and unparalleled profitability of "Stairway to Heaven," a relatively small amount of money was at stake. Due to copyright law, the plaintiffs would only have been eligible to collect retroactive royalties dating back to 2011.
In multiple testimonies, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant defended the integrity of "Stairway to Heaven" and denied having access to "Taurus" before its release.
For years, the legend went that Page and Plant came up with "Stairway to Heaven" during a cottage retreat in 1970, next to a fire. But Page rewrote history during a testimony last week, when he said that story was "incorrect" and that he actually came up with the song at a Hampshire recording studio.
This story is developing.
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