The verdict ended a high-profile copyright infringement trial that captivated music fans, and journalists alike, as a trio of rock heroes sang, chuckled and waxed nostalgic in several days of decidedly entertaining testimony.
The lawsuit was brought by the estate of the late songwriter Randy Wolfe, who founded the psychedelic band Spirit under his stage name Randy California. The two groups toured together in the late '60's, and members of Spirit were convinced that "Stairway's" ethereal opening riff was lifted from their 1968 instrumental song, "Taurus."
On Thursday, a jury disagreed:
Led Zeppelin's guitar wizard Jimmy Page and charismatic lead singer Robert Plant both claimed that they hadn't ever heard "Taurus" until recently; Page said he only discovered after his son-in-law alerted him to growing Internet buzz about similarities between the two songs. Along with keyboardist John Paul Jones, Page and Plant recalled experimenting with "Stairway's" melody for the first time at the rural Headley Grange recording studio.
Plant's potential awareness of the older song was explored to the point where the plaintiff's attorney brought to the stand a fan who remembered seeing Plant's "distinctive long, corkscrew blond hair" in the audience at a 1970 Spirit show. But Plant testified that he'd been in a serious car wreck only hours later and had no memory of the prior evening.
Despite these claims, the jury ultimately concluded that the band probably did have access to the tune. But that didn't matter: The songs simply weren't similar enough to prove copyright infringement, the jury found.
Only minutes before issuing a verdict, members of the jury listened with their eyes closed to audio clips of "Taurus and "Stairway," journalist Pamela Chelin reported.
After the proceeding, Page and Plant thanked their fans for support and said they were eager to put the legal battle behind them.
"We are grateful for the jury's conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of 'Stairway to Heaven' and confirming what we have known for 45 years," the rockers said in a prepared statement, according to The Wrap.
"At Warner Music Group, supporting our artists and protecting their creative freedom is paramount," the company said in a statement. "Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands in history, and Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are peerless songwriters who created many of rock's most influential and enduring songs."
Francis Malofiy, the attorney representing Wolfe's estate, said he was "sad and disappointed" by the verdict, and suggested the legal fight might not be over:
But for now, at least, rock n' roll history remains intact.
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