Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' goes on trial

Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' in Copyright Trial

LOS ANGELES, June 14 (Reuters) - A civil lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin's lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page of stealing the opening chords for their 1971 rock classic "Stairway to Heaven" from another band heads to trial on Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles.

U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner in Los Angeles in a decision in April said "Stairway" and the 1967 instrumental "Taurus" by the band Spirit were similar enough to let a jury decide whether Plant and Page were liable for copyright infringement.

The lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, who was Spirit's guitarist and the composer of "Taurus."

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Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' goes on trial
Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin plays a Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar with a violin bow while performing on stage at Oude Rai on 27th May 1972 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page talks to Gavin Esler about the 40th anniversary re-release of 'Physical Graffiti.'
GERMANY - MARCH: Led Zeppelin perform live on stage in Germany in March 1973 L-R Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham (1948-1980). (Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - JULY 13: Photo of Jimmy PAGE and LED ZEPPELIN and Robert PLANT and LIVE AID; L-R: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page performing live onstage at Live Aid, Philadelphia (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
UNITED STATES - JULY 29: MADISON SQUARE GARDEN Photo of Jimmy PAGE and LED ZEPPELIN and Robert PLANT, L-R: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page performing live onstage, during filming for 'The Song Remains The Same' (Photo by David Redfern/Redferns)
PHILADELPHIA, PA – CIRCA 1980: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zepellin performs at the Philadelphia Spectrum circa 1980 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Raoul/IMAGES/Getty Images)
British rock group Led Zeppelin, performing at Newcastle City Hall, 1st December 1972. Left to right: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 12: In this handout from the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama talks with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page during intermission at the Kennedy Center Honors on December 12, 2012 in Washignton, D.C. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 09: (L-R) John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant attend the 'Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day' press conference at the Museum of Modern Art on October 9, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/FilmMagic)

Skidmore said Page may have been inspired to write "Stairway" for Led Zeppelin after hearing Spirit perform "Taurus" while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969, but that Wolfe never got credit.

"Stairway to Heaven" is considered one of the most widely heard compositions in rock history and is the signature song of Led Zeppelin.

Trial in the case is set to begin on Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles, Marc Landis, a managing partner at the firm of Phillips Nizer which is representing Led Zeppelin, said in an email.

The case will begin with jury selection, followed by opening arguments. It was not immediately clear when Plant and Paige might testify.

Larry Iser, an attorney who has represented the Beatles and Michael Jackson and is not directly involved in the case, said in a phone interview the opening riff in dispute, which features a minor key and a descending base line, is a common musical device used on other hit songs.

Those include the Beatles piece "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" and Led Zeppelin's own recording "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," Iser said.

Attorneys for Led Zeppelin have argued the chord progressions cited in the civil lawsuit were so clichéd that they did not deserve copyright protection.

But Judge Klausner, in his decision in April, said a jury could find "substantial" similarity between the first two minutes of "Stairway" 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," Klausner wrote. He added that a jury would need to assess the "concept and feel" of the two works. (Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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