Guitarist Page and vocalist Plant shared co-writing credits for the song when it was released on the band’s fourth studio album.
Many music critics have hailed it as one of the greatest rock songs of all time.
But Michael Skidmore, trustee for the estate of musician Randy Craig Wolfe, claimed in a lawsuit that Page and Plant lifted the introduction to “Stairway to Heaven” from “Taurus,” a 1968 tune written by Wolfe for his group Spirit.
After a six-day trial, the case went to a four-woman and four-man jury on Wednesday (June 22). Jurors returned the verdict today in favor of the supergroup.
While the jury found that Led Zeppelin had access to “Taurus,” the two songs were not substantially similar, a key finding that negated the copyright claim.
The two songs shared a so-called descending chromatic refrain, but the rock duo argued in court that the notes have been in the public domain for more than 300 years.
Page said the song had more in common with “Chim-Chim Cheree,” a song from the 1965 movie musical “Mary Poppins.”
Similar notes can be found in Beatles songs, “My Funny Valentine” and “Michelle,” the artists said.
The trial, in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, drew widespread interest not just because of the personalities and song involved, but also because of the legal issues. Skidmore filed the suit in 2014, more than 40 years after “Stairway’s” release.
Typically, copyright claims must be made within a three-year statute of limitations. But some federal courts have ruled that the three-year period begins when the alleged infringement is discovered, not when the infringement occurs.
The case was also eye-opening because of the amount of money purportedly at stake.
Skidmore claimed the band’s 87-song catalog, including “Stairway to Heaven,” has generated more than $58.5 million since 2011. Furthermore, he said Plant and Page had earned millions of dollars. Skidmore asked the court for $40 million in damages.
But the English rockers’ accountant testified that Page grossed only $615,000 from the song before taxes. Plant’s take was $532,000, he testified.
Page testified that he first listened to “Taurus” when the two songs were compared online. “It was totally alien to me,” he said.
The singer acknowledged, however, that Spirit’s album was in his collection– along with 4,329 other albums and 5,882 CDs.
Plant also said he’d watched Spirit and met the band at a 1970 show.
No word yet on whether Skidmore plans an appeal.
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