Led Zeppelin Prepare to Defend 'Stairway to Heaven' Lawsuit

The band was sued by Spirit guitarist Randy California for "Taurus" ripoff.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
10

Led Zeppelin have hired prominent entertainment lawyer Helene Freeman to represent them in a lawsuit that claims the band plagiarised portions of their iconic 1971 anthem, "Stairway to Heaven," Hennemusic reports.

As Business Week reports, Freeman has previously done work for boy band NSYNC, singer Diana Ross and corporate clients that include record distributors and advertising agencies. The lawsuit, brought by the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy California and members of the band, claims the acoustic introduction to "Stairway" was lifted from their 1968 instrumental, "Taurus."

The two bands crossed paths during Zeppelin's first US tour, which saw the future rock legends open for Vanilla Fudge and Spirit, and that's where the Los Angeles band claims Jimmy Page was exposed to "Taurus." California told journalist Jeff McLaughlin in the winter 1997 issue of Listener magazine that Led Zeppelin had filched his song.

"I'd say it was a ripoff," California said. "And the guys made millions of bucks on it and never said 'Thank you,' never said, 'Can we pay you some money for it?' It's kind of a sore point with me. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it."

California drowned while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current in Hawaii in early 1997. This spring, guitarist Jimmy Page called the lawsuit "ridiculous." Lawyers for Led Zeppelin and its record company, Warner Music, have until September 22 to respond to the suit.

"Stairway" originally appeared on Led Zeppelin's untitled 1971 album; it has since been referred to as "Led Zeppelin IV." Led Zeppelin will release an expanded version of "Led Zeppelin IV" (and 1973's "Houses of the Holy") on October 28 as part of their extensive reissue series. The "Led Zeppelin IV" deluxe edition will include, among others, an unreleased, alternate version of "Stairway to Heaven" on a companion disc of bonus material.

Trending stories

77 comments sorted by best / new / date

    chaoticfables
    what, they're taking action now?
    BrokenBricks
    this. such a ****ing joke. waiting over 40 years to do something? it's ****ing stairway, not some random b-side or something.
    UncleBluck
    Its not even California (cause he is dead) or his family. Its some dirt bag attorney who does this kind of thing for a living. Amazing how low and scum ridden the law profession has become....
    the_bi99man
    Absolutely. There is no legit case here. The songs don't sound anywhere near enough alike. Sure there's a couple similar notes, but you can't copyright a note or a chord. This is nothing but a scumbag money-grubbing piece of shit lawyer trying to get another few millions. Fucking parasite.
    K33nbl4d3
    California didn't have the cash to sue, and by the time he did they thought the statute of limitations would prevent it.
    bustapr
    and they waited 43 years to sue over what is arguably the most popular rock song ever?
    the_bi99man
    "They" didn't sue at all. The guy who wrote the piece that's been allegedly plagiarized is dead. It's just his lawyer trying to cash in on nothing. Typical lawyer. Just being a parasitic, worthless excuse of a human being. As per usual.
    Jv-e
    Meh, he has half a point, it does sound similar to the intro, but the thing to remember is that its not one of the best songs ever written just because if the intro. And it's not just 8 minutes 3 of that melody. The inspiration is undeniable though...
    Unf
    True, reminds me of
    Same blues scale riff, but totally different songs
    UncleBluck
    Tall & tan & young & lovely the girl from Impanema goes walking.....and when she passes, each man she passes goes ahhhh.....
    K33nbl4d3
    "Ridiculous." Yeah, Jimmy, nothing like this has ever happened before! In all seriousness, there's quite a lot of similarity. Maybe it just put the chromatic descent idea in Page's mind, but I don't think of those kind of arpeggios (even as they appear in Stairway) as particularly Page-ish either...
    K33nbl4d3
    By the way, does anyone know how any statutes of limitations come into this? I know they limited Jake Holmes' claims on Dazed and Confused's royalties a fair bit.
    badfish_lewis
    If the song is continually being released then time really isn't a factor preventing you from suing. However, any possible penalties will only delve into the time frame of the new release, not the original.
    Super-Peanut
    2chromatic adjective music : of or relating to a musical scale that has all semitones I don't think there is any Chromatic descent in the song,...it's arpeggios in the key of Am I thought?
    K33nbl4d3
    The base notes in the intro arpeggios in Stairway and the equivalent part of Taurus descend chromatically, in both cases from A down to F. If you look at the tab it should be pretty easy to spot, it's basically the notes played on the D string every two beats for the first two-and-a-half bars, and if you play it fingerstyle (which I hope you do!) they're the notes you'd play with your thumb. I haven't the foggiest how it fits harmonically since neither the major sixth nor the major seventh are in A minor (something borrowed from the melodic minor or...?) but I understand it's not uncommon in ballad-style songs.
    matteo cubano
    you don't know the song i guess
    ShredderMan1
    no you dont i guess the passing tones are dominant chords guy
    ShredderMan1
    a c e aflat a dominant major 7. its a classical thing thus my reference to yngwie and bach. jimmy was a smart guy. classical motifs and chord voicings are all throughout zeppelin.
    mattythebassman
    I was always more of a Sabbath fan anyways. Tonnes more originality there, they deserve more credit and recognition than they get. They changed and revolutionised the sound of Heavy music. While Jimmy has some talent, he is a bit of a money grabber and I don't like that he denies the fact that he takes elements from certain songs and doesn't credit other musicians for their contributions.
    Anjohl
    The boys have a case. Zeppelin will probably win, because the law = pay to win, but if justice was served, they would get a songwriting credit, and millions in back royalties.
    TreeProg
    This is a classic chromatic chordal technique that has been done thousands of times, especially in jazz. I don't doubt that Page was inspired by Spirit's song, but in no way did Spirit pull this technique from thin air.
    Richo1985
    I think we're all overlooking something far more concerning... "California drowned while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current in Hawaii in early 1997." "California told journalist Jeff McLaughlin in the winter 1997 issue of Listener magazine that Led Zeppelin had filched his song." Oh lawdy...
    Pit_
    That is what Led Zeppelin are known for. If it was catchy they stole it.
    PRSguitars87
    Sounds like his "estate" AKA a bunch of losers who want a handout, are about 40 years too late. The band itself never went after such a lawsuit, but the "estate" is.... Hmmm. Sounds like somebody is desperate for a handout
    the_bi99man
    Just lawyers being lawyers. When somebody earns their money legitimately, there's always hordes of cockroaches in suits waiting to steal it.
    UncleBluck
    So you basically have about 10 similar, not exactly, sounding notes in the intro to a 6 minute song. I don't get it. Its not like Coldplay who ripped an entire song note for note from Joe Satriani, though in a different key(like that was going to fool anyone).....
    Spenner2810
    I would be more concerned about the newly discovered black and white film outtakes that show George Formby singing an early verion of 'Black Dog' in the 1942 propaganda film "Adios Adolf". Of course the opening line was "Hey hey Adolf gonna to make you lose, when the British Army get in the groove" but I think we all know what Plant and Page did there. Apparently Formby's grandson is lining up a claim. Where will it all end ? Bloody lawyers....
    andrew.harrison
    UncleBluck
    Andrew your dredging up stuff that everybody has already heard....
    Shadow914
    It's the fact that everyone overlooks all of it and still deifies zeppelin. It's f***ing pathetic.
    mjones1992
    It's also pathetic that people forget that music back then was very very often 'borrowed'. It's in the blues tradition to take lines and melodies and make them your own. Zep was, at it's roots and in it's beginnings, a blues band. They just made it heavy The suing didn't start until the mid-80s after Zep was long gone and the lawyers started pushing artists to sue.
    TheLiberation
    I don't get their course of action though. Did they ever even approach Led Zeppelin first about it? Why do it after so many years rather than at some point earlier? It makes no sense to me.
    the_bi99man
    Because the guy who wrote the piece that's been allegedly plagiarized isn't the one bringing the lawsuit. He's dead. It's just his lawyer trying to cash in now that he has the right to his dead client's music. Parasite.
    koalabacon
    I really think people get too booty bothered about this subject. Are the intro chords similar? Yes. But only slightly. Both deviate in chord progression quite a bit after the 8 seconds of the song that sound like they were stolen from "Spirit". And to me that's not enough evidence to say they out right copied them. I'm sure there are tons of songs from that era that have similar chord progressions. Shit, how many songs do we know about that use the same I-V-vi-IV chord progression? The only thing people really pick up on is the fact that both use arpeggiating guitars. If one was played on the piano then nobody would notice. Not to mention, the only parts that are somewhat similar are the beginnings. "Spirit" is a two minute instrumental while Stairway is an 8-minute epic. I think people would rather believe that Zeppelin are just plagiarizing *******s and submit to conspiracy than give them the benefit of the doubt. it's really just coincidence. I guess we'll have to see what the defense is for Zepepelin
    Izzy-Sweet
    It's a series of arpeggios, you can't license that! Of all the supposed "rip-offs" Led Zeppelin did, this is by far the least offensive.
    The_Pyramidion
    It would be one of their least offensive thefts, if it were not for the fact that it is one of their highest grossing songs.
    DMRIOT
    I hope zeppelin start suing people. Like porcupine tree for ripping off no quarter. Pearl jam for going to california. Audioslave for cochese.....shall I go on?
    Flying Afros
    I don't follow...
    DMRIOT
    There's a track on fear of a black planet that has basically the same intro as no quarter. There's a track on one of pearl jams records that came out around 97 that is basically going to california. And cochese, for f@cks sake just listen to it.
    rockerwannabe
    And what about the fast bit of Am, G to F. All Along the Watchtower? Please. There are only so many combinations available in music. Folk can find a bazillion similarities between countless songs. I wrote a song in my bedroom when I was a teenager and the Driving and Crying had a hit song with almost the same riff as me. They obviously didn't eavesdrop on my playing so these things just happen. Lame, lame, lame.
    crazysam23_Atax
    Hey, it's 40 years later, guys...let's sue Led Zeppelin. They're still well-known, and we're not, right? GRRR!
    dennis.1960
    The beginning few seconds of the guitar and accompaniment is somewhat similar but doesn't go to the same chord progression. Can you sue over an arpeggio???
    Cirorock21
    BAaahh And they never plagiarized before Davie Graham's "Cry me a River"
    It is as if like I based my song on II V I progression or any progression and say nobody can play these progression anymore because there are only so much that are pleasing to the ear and that moves us and almost calls us*. They just can't own a motif of nature, You Fools! Freaking drunken Rockstars, [these case probably the lawyer] needing more money, declaring that people cant play those progressions and incorporate them in an original creative work, because they own them! and for sure next also declaring that "Rock IS Dead" just because they were once part of it doesnt mean they own it nor that they have the right to say it's "Dead" no rock is not dead, maybe in those rockstars pants that now have to be down to earth and have a wife. But don't try to privatize nature dumb, greedy, arrogant ****s... with all due respect my rock idols if these gets to you. !
    The_Pyramidion
    Right, because Zeppelin has never settled out of court with Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, etc. etc.
    Tempoe
    Total rip off. I lost some respect for Page, even though he did have me for dinner at his house in Kensington once.
    kill it
    i hear similarities but nothing worse than the diary of a madman ripoff. ozzy needs to give leo brouwer some money.
    GoToSleep
    I used to be a pretty huge fan of Zeppelin. They really introduced me to hard rock and blues rock with their older albums. Their later work is rubbish but even as I look back on a lot of their older stuff it's not all it's cracked up to be and they were a pretty tacky live act. Can't really talk much about ripping people off, I think some make good cases and others it's not there as much.