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Stairway to Heaven - Latest in a Whole Lotta Lawsuits

HandelontheLaw.com Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 04, 2015



Stairway to Heaven - Latest in a Whole Lotta Lawsuits

“Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin’s 1971 mega-hit, was our prom theme (and probably everybody else’s at some point in that decade). Apparently, we and Led Zeppelin may owe considerable credit to a band called “Spirit,” as a federal judge is allowing a copyright infringement case to continue against Warner Music Group and surviving members of Led Zeppelin.

Time out.
Let’s test the Plaintiff’s allegations.
Spirit’s “Taurus” can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xd8AVbwB_6E
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcL---4xQYA
Did Led Zeppelin commit copyright infringement?

Time in.
In 1968, the relatively obscure Spirit released its debut album, including an instrumental piece called “Taurus.” Then Spirit and Led Zeppelin appeared at several of the same concerts in 1968 and 1969. Then Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven” in 1971.

Spirit guitarist Randy California drowned in 1997 while rescuing his son from a rip current near Molokai, Hawaii. Randy California’s trust was formed in California. Apparently, there has been an ongoing argument about the similarity between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven,” but the 3-year statute of limitations ran and made it impossible for a successful suit against Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement.

Thereafter, Led Zeppelin or Warner Music Group or both of them rereleased some of the band’s greatest hits, including “Stairway to Heaven.” That rerelease is now allowing Randy California’s trust to sue the surviving members of Led Zeppelin and Warner Music Group, though any award would be limited to the song’s most recent earnings due to the 3-year statute of limitations.

Despite the award’s limitation, it could be considerable. Disregarding the boring/excruciating experience of dancing to the song’s long version, “Stairway to Heaven” was a gold mine, allegedly earning $562+ million in royalties and record sales since its 1971 release.

Randy California’s trust sued the Defendants in Philadelphia because it is a more favorable venue for the Plaintiff. Defendants moved to either dismiss the case or move it to federal court in Los Angeles. The judge allowed the case to continue but did transfer it to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division.

Lest you believe this is a first, Led Zeppelin has settled several copyright infringement suits regarding other songs:
- In the early 1970’s the group settled a “The Lemon Song” lawsuit by giving a writing credit to Chester “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett;
- In the mid-80’s, the group settled a “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” lawsuit by reaching a settlement for royalties and a writing credit to Anne Brendon;
- In 1987, the group settled a “Whole Lotta Love” lawsuit by adding Willie Dixon’s name to the credits;
- In 2012, the group settled a “Dazed and Confused” lawsuit by including “inspired by Jake Holmes” in the song credit.
It seems that the “Stairway to Heaven” suit is just another in a whole lotta lawsuits for the surviving members of Led Zeppelin.


By Kathy Catanzarite


Source: Kathy Catanzarite - Handelonthelaw.com Staff Writer

Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.





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