Led Zeppelin was handed a major legal victory, with Rolling Stone reporting the U.S. Supreme Court announcing it will not hear the copyright dispute over the band's 1971 song “Stairway To Heaven.” The decision upheld a recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the Zeppelin classic, “did not infringe on the band Spirit‘s 1968 instrumental track, 'Taurus.'” The song in question was written by the late-Randy California, whose goven name was Randy Craig Wolfe.
Francis Malofiy, the lawyer for Michael Skidmore, the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, was disappointed with the ruling and told the magazine: “What you have here is a big win for the multi-billion dollar industry against the creatives. I love Led Zeppelin, as a man, and I can separate my appreciation for them as four band members playing amazing music, but they’re the greatest art thieves of all time and they got away with it again today. They won on a technicality. But they absolutely stole that piece of work.”
The dispute over “Stairway To Heaven” had made its way last September to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco before an 11-judge panel, which ruled the suit could proceed to the Supreme court.
The new reporting explained Malofiy sees several options for still moving forward in his dogged attempt to win a piece of the “Stairway” copyright, “(Malofiy) laid out two possible paths forward: Appeal to a panel that comprises all the judges on the Ninth Circuit, as opposed to just a cross-section, or potentially appeal to the Supreme Court. He said he is still considering which of the two options to pursue.”
Tim English is an expert on musical plagiarism and the author of Sounds Like Teen Spirit: Stolen Melodies, Ripped-off Riffs, And The Secret History Of Rock And Roll. Prior to the final Supreme Court decison, we asked him what he made of the case of “Stairway” vs. “Taurus”: “I think that it's a fairly distinct similarity on the one hand; but on the other hand, 'Stairway To Heaven' goes (on) for around eight minutes. This is, at the very top, I'd say a quarter of the song that we're talking about here. So, even if we were going to say that they violated the copyright of the Spirit song 'Taurus,' in creating it, you'd still be talking about only a percentage of the total work of 'Stairway To Heaven.'”
Randy Bachman, best known for his work in the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO), told us that the iconic “Stairway To Heaven” riff is truly centuries old. Bachman, like the rest of the rock world watched as the estate of his old friend Spirit guitarist Randy California took Jimmy Page and Robert Plant to court over the song, and revealed to us that it's been around for centuries: “I have something from the 14th century, a harpist, who's name was (Turlough) O'Carolan, who was blind. He went from yard to yard — he had a dog that led him. He would stand at your front gate, 'cause he couldn't see the house — and play this little harp. He had a song called 'Ascension To Heaven.' Bert Jansch then did that on guitar, and I'm telling you, 'Ascension To Heaven' by O'Carolan, is 'Stairway To Heaven.' As old as the ages.”