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Court to decide whether Led Zeppelin lifted Stairway To Heaven riff

Published 14/06/2016

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant are accused of copying some of the music in their hit Stairway To Heaven (AP)
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant are accused of copying some of the music in their hit Stairway To Heaven (AP)

Generations of aspiring guitarists have tried to copy the riff from Led Zeppelin's Stairway To Heaven.

A court in Los Angeles will now try to decide whether the members of the rock band themselves ripped off that riff.

Guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant are named as defendants in a lawsuit brought by the trustee of late guitarist Randy Wolfe from the band Spirit.

Lawyers for the trustee contend that 1971's Stairway To Heaven copies music from the Spirit song Taurus, which Wolfe wrote in either 1966 or 1967.

Led Zeppelin and Spirit performed at some concerts and festivals around the same time, but not on the same stage.

A judge ruled in April that evidence presented in hearings made a circumstantial case that Led Zeppelin may have heard Taurus performed before writing their song and sent the case to trial.

Page, Plant and their bandmate John Paul Jones are all expected to give evidence at the trial, though Jones has been dismissed as a defendant in the case.

Wolfe died in 1997, drowning while saving his son in Hawaii.

Francis Alexander Malofiy, lawyer for Wolfe's trustee Michael Skidmore, said that, while many copyright cases are an uphill battle, District Judge R Gary Klausner's ruling in April brings his client one step closer to getting Wolfe credit for helping create one of the most recognisable song introductions in rock history.

Led Zeppelin's lawyers argued that both Stairway To Heaven and Taurus use notes and combinations that have been circulating in music for centuries.

The song has generated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years. Wolfe's lawyers overcame statute-of-limitations hurdles to sue over Stairway To Heaven because the song was remastered and re-released in 2014.

The lawsuit also came after a high-profile victory last year when a federal jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had copied a Marvin Gaye song to create their 2013 hit Blurred Lines and awarded Gaye's children 7.4 million US dollars (£5.2 million).

A judge trimmed the award, and the verdict is under appeal, but the decision appears to have prompted a surge in copyright-infringement filings.

The lawyer who represented Gaye's family filed another suit last week in Los Angeles claiming that Ed Sheeran's 2014 song Photograph is too similar to the 2009 song Amazing written by Martin Harrington and Thomas Leonard and released by 2010 British X Factor winner Matt Cardle.

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