According to Reuters, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner determined “Stairway to Heaven” shares enough similarities to “Taurus”, a song recorded by the band Spirit four years prior in 1967.
Zeppelin toured with Spirit prior to recording “Stairway to Heaven” in 1971. Guitarist Jimmy Page has acknowledged that Spirit may have influenced his writing of the song, but called accusations of plagiarism “ridiculous.”
The lawsuit was filed by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for late Spirit frontman Randy California, who composed “Taurus”. According to the lawsuit, California complained of the similarities between the two songs in an interview conducted shortly before his death in 1997.
In his ruling, Judge Klausner said a jury could find “substantial” similarity between the first two minutes of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus”.
“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,” the judge added. “What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works … a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.”
Page and Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, who are credited as co-writers of “Stairway to Heaven”, are the main defendants in the case. The trial is set to begin on May 10th.
Update – Tuesday, April 12th at 4:00 p.m. CT: In a statement issued to Pitchfork, Francis Alexander Malofiy, a lawyer representing California’s estate, said, “I don’t believe a jury will be as forgiving as Led Zeppelin’s fans.” He also dismissed the possibility of a settlement; until Led Zeppelin is willing to give “credit” to Spirit, any offer would be a “nonstarter.”
Compare the two songs via the video below: