Led Zeppelin has been sued several times over the years for copyright infringement, but the latest court action (discussed recently on NPR) pertains to the band’s iconic song, “Stairway to Heaven.” Back in the ’60’s, Led Zeppelin opened for a band called Spirit. Spirit recorded an instrumental entitled “Taurus,” (the Zodiac was a big deal in those days) written by the band’s guitarist in 1968. The suit alleges that the opening of “Taurus” sounds an awful lot like the Zeppelin song that was played at the end of most of high school dances in the 70’s. The shortened, “radio” version of the song ran 8 minutes, and the full length version ran 17 minutes.
In order to prevail in a copyright infringement action, the plaintiff has to prove both ownership of a valid copyright for a work, and copying by the defendant of “original and constituent elements” of that work. The second element, copying, is pretty subjective. The plaintiff needs to show both “access” to the original work and “similarity” between the original work and the allegedly infringing work. Without proof of access, the two works must be “strikingly similar” in order for access to be presumed. But since Led Zeppelin clearly had access to “Taurus” and likely heard it pretty often, the main issue in the case becomes whether there is “probative similarity” between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus.”
Yeah, by now your head is humming and it won’t go, in case you don’t know… But you can decide the “probative similarity” question for yourself by playing the game, “Which is the Real Stairway to Heaven?”
The case against Led Zepplin is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division. That’s the same court in which a jury imposed a $7.4 million dollar judgment against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke after determining that their 2013 hit, “Blurred Lines,” infringed on Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.”
Ooh, it makes us wonder – so check back here for updates. And visit if you’re too young to understand the really clever lyric references we used to punch up dry legal stuff.