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Stairway to heaven, a song familiar to everyone around the world, is Led Zeppelin's signature hit and a pillar of rock music, release in 1971. It was composed by guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant for the band's untitled fourth studio album (often called Led Zeppelin IV). It is often referred to as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
However, rumours had it that the song was copied from an instrumental tune Taurus by the lesser-known group Spirit. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant will be defending themselves against a lawsuit claiming that parts of Stairway to Heaven was an imitation of Taurus.
The trial, set to start on June 14 with Mr. Page and Mr. Plant expected to be in attendance, may prove fascinating legal theater for fans. But it will also be closely watched by a music business that is grappling with a series of recent copyright decisions.
The Led Zeppelin case was filed two years ago by a trustee representing the songs of Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, one of Spirit's main songwriters, who died in 1997.
However it is said that Page and Plant denied on having ever heard the song Taurus before the case came to light and said that Stairway to Heaven was written independently. Yet over the years, the band has settled numerous challenges of plagiarism by adding other songwriters' credits to its albums.
In 2012, the band settled a suit by Jake Holmes over Dazed and Confused, and subsequent releases of the song on Led Zeppelin's albums list it as being written by Mr. Page and inspired by Jake Holmes.
The case focuses on the famous opening of Stairway to Heaven, in which an acoustic guitar plays arpeggiated chords in a descending pattern. That part, the suit contends, copied Spirit's Taurus released in 1968. In the suit's complaint, Francis Malofiy, the lead lawyer representing the plaintiff, said that Led Zeppelin's members heard Spirit's song when the bands crossed paths on the road early in their careers.
The suit, filed on behalf of Michael Skidmore, the trustee, accused Led Zeppelin of copyright infringement and the novel claim (duly struck down by the judge) of "falsification of rock 'n' roll history." Mr. Malofiy has said that he is seeking as much as $40 million in damages.
A jury will decide just how similar they are.