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Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ heading to copyright trial

Led Zeppelin copyright suit to move to trial
In this Oct. 9, 2012, file photo, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, left, and singer Robert Plant appear at a news conference. A federal judge in Los Angeles ruled Friday, April 8, 2016, that a copyright infringement lawsuit over the song “Stairway to Heaven” should be decided at trial.
(Evan Agostini / Invision / AP)

The opening riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is going on trial.

The case centers around claims from a trustee of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, that “Stairway to Heaven” copies music from the Spirit song “Taurus.”

According to court documents acquired by the L.A. Times, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner determined Friday that lawyers for the trustee, Michael Skidmore, had provided enough evidence for the case to proceed to trial on May 10 and that, although the songs contain differences, lawyers may be able to prove substantial similarities.

DOCUMENT: The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ lawsuit

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“Taurus” appeared on Spirit’s eponymous first album in 1968 and was written by Wolfe in either 1966 or 1967. “Stairway to Heaven” was released by Led Zeppelin in 1971. 

Wolfe’s estate announced plans to pursue a copyright infringement suit in May 2014, seeking a co-writing credit for Wolfe on “Stairway to Heaven.”

Klausner’s ruling also removed John Paul Jones, Super Hype Publishing, Inc. and Warner Music Group Corp. from the case, as none of the parties “performed or distributed ‘Stairway to Heaven’ within the three years preceding the instant action.” Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page remain as defendants.

The trial is the latest in a spate of copyright-infringement cases surrounding a hit song. In March 2015, Marvin Gaye’s children were awarded over $7 million after a jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had copied Gaye’s “Gotta Give it Up” in the process of creating their 2013 hit “Blurred Lines.” A judge later reduced the judgment, and the verdict remains under appeal.

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