Allegations that Led Zeppelin partly stole their most recognizable song, 1971’s “Stairway to Heaven,” have long dogged the band, and now a jury will have to decide whether or not they’re true. A California federal judge has ruled that the copyright infringement claim against Led Zeppelin on behalf of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe (a.k.a. Randy California) will go to trial. A trustee for Wolfe sued Zeppelin in 2014 for allegedly stealing the song’s iconic opening chords from Spirit’s “Taurus” under the argument that, because the two bands performed at the same music festivals during the time Wolfe wrote “Taurus” (1966–1967), the song may have inspired guitarist Jimmy Page’s intro. The judge has now found that there are “substantial similarities” between the beginning of both songs — enough evidence to move the case to trial. Lead singer Robert Plant and Page, credited with writing the song, have argued that the famed chord progression from “Stairway to Heaven” in question is “clichéd” enough to not warrant copyright protection.
The judge, however, disagrees: “While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure. For example, the descending bass line in both Taurus and Stairway to Heaven appears at the beginning of both songs, arguably the most recognizable and important segments. … Additionally, the descending bass line is played at the same pitch, repeated twice, and separated by a short bridge in both songs.” So will Plant and Page have to face the music, just as Pharrell and Robin Thicke did for “Blurred Lines” in California federal court a year ago? We’ll find out when the case goes to trial starting May 10.