Judge says Led Zeppelin may have stolen opening of Stairway To Heaven

It contains arguably the most distinctive riff in rock music, but now singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page are to face trial over whether they stole the opening chords for Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven.

US district judge Gary Klausner said there is a “substantial” similarity between Led Zeppelin’s classic 1971 song and an instrumental by the band Spirit to let a jury decide whether Plant and Page are liable for copyright infringement.

The trial has been set for May 10.

The copyright infringement action has been brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who toured with Led Zeppelin in the 1960s.

Skidmore claims Wolfe should be given a writing credit on the track.

Page and Plant are reputed to have written Stairway to Heaven in a remote cottage in Wales.

However, Mr Skidmore has suggested the song came about after the band heard Spirit perform the instrumental Taurus while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969.

Klausner 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,” Judge Klausner ruled.

“What remains is a subjective assessment of the ‘concept and feel’ of two works… a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.”

Klausner also said the trustee can get only 50% of any damages awarded, citing a 1967 contract Wolfe signed.

Stairway to Heaven’ was the stand-out track on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth studio album,  often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV.

It was voted No.3 in 2000 by VH1 on its list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs, and was placed at number 31 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of  The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.