Led Zeppelin win lawsuit, Stairway officially not a rip-off

By: GroundGuitar Dan
Posted under: News

The lawsuit that argued that Led Zeppelin’s mega-hit Stairway to Heaven was basically a result of Jimmy Page ripping of the chord progression from Spirit’s song Taurus, finally came to a close.

The suit was filed in 2014 by the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy Craig Wolfe, who himself never took any legal action before his death in 1997. He did however, express his frustration over the issue.

Well, if you listen to the two songs, you can make your own judgment. It’s an exact … I’d say it was a rip-off. 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 some day their conscience will make them do something about it. I don’t know. There are funny business dealings between record companies, managers, publishers, and artists. But when artists do it to other artists, there’s no excuse for that. I’m mad!

Listener Magazine (cited in the music blog “Turn Me On, Dead Man.”)
Led Zeppelin IV record sitting next to a record player.
Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

Stairway to Heaven was featured on the Led Zeppelin IV album, released in 1971 on the label Atlantic Records which belongs to Warner Music Group. Spirit’s Taurus, a rock instrumental recorded by Wolfe, originally released in 1968. The lawsuit was brought by the lawyers representing the band Spirit, against Warner for unauthorized derivative work.

To summarize the whole ordeal, a judge ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin in 2016, however, in 2018 the Ninth Circuit 3-judge panel vacated the district court’s jury’s decision due to “process errors and poor jury instructions”, ordering a new trial. Then again in March 9, 2020, upon review, the 9th Circuit restored the district court verdict in favor of Zeppelin, but few months later Michael Skidmore (the trustee of the Wolfe estate) petitioned the Supreme Court to again overturn the 9th Circuit’s decision.

This game eventually came to a close on October 5th, 2020, when the Supreme Court of the United States denied to review the case. Since there’s no higher court to appeal to, that means that the case is probably over.

For more information about the lawsuit, please refer to Michael Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin 952 F.3d 1051 (9th Cir. 2020).

Stairway to Heaven vs Taurus similarities

Even though the lawsuit is now finished, there probably remains a large number of people out there who will continue to argue both ways. If you’re interested in a more objective analysis of the similarities, and how often this particular chord progression gets used, Rick Beato’s video on the subject is an interesting watch.

Rick Beato on the subject
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