News

Did Led Zeppelin steal “Stairway to Heaven”? Legendary band facing lawsuit from former tour mates

on May 19, 2014, 8:57am

Led Zeppelin are facing allegations of plagiarism for a song they wrote over 40 years ago. As The Guardian reports, the trust for Randy California, the late frontman of Los Angeles band Spirit, is preparing a lawsuit against Zeppelin arguing that “Stairway to Heaven” is a rip-off of Spirit’s 1968 instrumental track “Taurus”.

The evidence is pretty damning, too. Not only do the two songs’ opening riffs sound remarkably similar, but Zeppelin actually toured with Spirit throughout 1968 and 1969, during which “Taurus” was frequently included in the band’s setlist. Jimmy Page didn’t write “Stairway to Heaven” until 1970.

In an interview with Listener magazine in 1997, California deemed “Stairway to Heaven” a “rip-off” of “Taurus”, adding, “[Led Zeppelin] made millions of bucks on it and never said thank you; never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’”. A lawyer for California’s trust said the band never filed suit because “Nobody had any money, and they thought the statute of limitations was done.”

Now, with Zeppelin gearing up to reissue their 1971 album IV, which features “Stairway to Heaven”, California’s trust is readying a copyright infringement suit and injunction that would block the release. As The Guardian notes, though the U.S. has a three-year statute of limitations on copyright infringement cases, California and the band could still seek royalties from recent sales of “Stairway to Heaven”.

Compare the two tracks below:

The news comes as Led Zeppelin members bicker over the future of the band. As reported over the weekend, Page recently said he is “fed up with” Robert Plant over his indecisiveness regarding further reunion shows.

43 comments

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Jess pattison
October 20, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I can name 50 other songs sounding similar before and after this period including A Pink Floyd song.

JimD
July 4, 2014 at 1:05 am

Kind of sounds like , maybe, sort of, not likely.

Anonymous
July 3, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Jimmy crack corn…

Anonymous
May 27, 2014 at 6:56 am

Apparently, Spirit invented arpeggios.

mycitymelbourne
May 20, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Here are a few examples of Led Zep stealing songs

PIGMANTAAT
May 23, 2014 at 7:08 pm

You know what LED ZEPPELIN@ PINK FLOYD are the two best bands that will ever walk on the face of this earth. You can say what you want to say but THAT’S A FACT JACK!

mycitymelbourne
May 24, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Hi Pigmantaat, I think you will find that very much falls into the category of opinion.

Tele Savalas
May 20, 2014 at 1:58 pm

First off, you can’t own rights to a fingerstyle guitar pattern…one thats not even that unique and uses arpeggios of some of the most common beginner guitar chords. That’s about as close as it gets. Stairway even uses a different chord pattern. There is a slight similarity in just Stairway’s intro that still deviates the chord progression. Not enough to be a “rip off” of a song. Stairway also goes off into a much more complicated territory, where Sprit’s songs sounds like an interlude on their album and the fingerstyle riff was about the climax of the whole song.

Most of the Led Zep “plagiarize” rhetoric came from blues songs they referenced. Something any blues or jazz artist understands and does. Even the delta bluesman used to copy each other and reference each other. I’ve heard countless talented bands do a variation on Stormy Monday…and to people in the know, its obvious that the band is paying tribute. Always been a tip of the hat to reference other blues songs in blues, more of a demonstration of respect and knowlede than a dishonest way to rip people off. Every major blues artist has covered others’ songs, either directly or “inspired by” but Led Zeppelin, taking part in this tradition, gets the shaft because they made money. And they didn’t make money because they ripped off songs, they made money because they were great musicians and showmen…demonstrated by countless completely unique compositions. The Rolling Stones and Beatles used Chuck Berry guitar licks. Stevie Ray Vaughan used Albert King guitar licks. Anyone who plays slide uses Duane Allman licks today. And all in a much more direct way than Zeppelin’s alledged plagiarism and infitinitely more than the Spirit composition was ripped off. Lame.

Charles Greaves (@cardinals45)
May 20, 2014 at 8:29 am

Led Zeppelin,way overrated.Poison and Guns N Roses were 100 times better,that’s right I said Poison. Most bands,Stones,the Animals were much better than LZ,but hey they were and still are popular,so hats off,but still overrated.

Christian
May 21, 2014 at 9:49 am

I think a lot of people think Zeppelin is over rated, only becasue they’re not listening intently enough becasue there is alot going on in each song. The rythym section itself is a whole diffrent world and the way that they hold it together is pretty incredible which makes them my favorite band.I’m not attempting to say that your opinion is wrong, but they listening to them more intently on each of thier albums, instead of the hits. Everyone who says they’re overrated only listens to the hits. I’m not sure if you’ve listened to albums, but just try Led Zeppelin II, and not in mp3 format. I think if you listen actively, you might appreciate them a bit more.

Anonymous
May 21, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Wow that’s hilarious, poison …. Went to high school with those knuckleheads, they were ok at best, for a few years, still limping along in reality tv and dog products, a lot of mediocre bands hit it big in the 80s and 90s I’d like to that alcohol and drugs aided their ‘success’ but to claim poison was better than zeppelin, and guns and roses, as individuals slash is a fantastic, iconic guitarist, axel well has proven his inability to be a true legendary front man, is far surpassed by his inability to show up on time and actually perform. I agree guns was fantastic, even epic, briefly, and still shows up on my iPod from time to time. No led zeppelin, I figure you never really listened. But opinions like assholes, everybody has one on they both stink. But get real.

Anonymous
May 21, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Yes I see similarities in these pieces, like saying a yugo is a car similar to a Ferrari, both have four wheels, an engine, transmission, ect to infinitum of the ‘same’ parts, however assembled or crafted gravely different, both still produced a car. All these parts don’t add up to anything even remotely close to the same result. Much like music, let’s consider any note ever assembled, if those notes are then used in another score,mis that stolen? I am in a creative profession, and respect ownership, and protection, and have been ripped off, several times, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery.

mycitymelbourne
May 20, 2014 at 2:52 am

Led Zeppelin are the biggest frauds in rock music history. They are a cover band- a good cover band but one that has never payed royalties to the acts whose songs they played.

Anonymous
May 20, 2014 at 4:27 am

Go suck an egg n get some talent

Peter Poirier
May 20, 2014 at 7:13 am

You are a complete idiot. The mighty Zep is by far the most talented band in rock history.
This Spirit song song NOTHING like Stairway to Heaven

Frodo
May 20, 2014 at 9:09 am

Somebody needs a hug. LepZep rocks.

Tony Schiffbauer
May 19, 2014 at 9:43 pm

no way…zeppelin’s version goes like this “ding ding ding ding ding ding ding” my version goes like this “ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding”

Vanilla Ice
May 19, 2014 at 11:29 pm

You took the words right out of my mouth.

Anonymous
May 20, 2014 at 4:27 am

You ain’t shit either.

Couldcareless
May 19, 2014 at 8:05 pm

What’s wrong Medicare and Medicade not workin out for ya?

Christian
May 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm

lmfao you sir or ma’m, made my day

Couldcareless
May 19, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Too Late!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dawn
May 19, 2014 at 8:08 pm

you should nobody can beat Led Zepplin

Dawn
May 19, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I Love Led Zeppelin no they did not steal as you say Taurus your nobody get a life

Anonymous
May 20, 2014 at 4:29 am

Sounds nothing alike

Anonymous
May 19, 2014 at 7:40 pm

What kills me is being a good music artist isn’t just writing a riff. But how to apply with the rest of the band members. Every guitarist plays the e cord who wrote that. The best part of stairway to heaven is the come back at the end. That doesn’t sound like Taurus.

tom
May 19, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Not surprised at all. Led Zeppelin is know for ripping off artist without paying royalties. Been doing it from the start.

Dawn
May 19, 2014 at 8:04 pm

you have it so wrong get a job

Anonymous
May 19, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Pretty amazing what led zeppelin did with that spirit riff, no doubt it inspired stairway

Salvador Gonzalez Cervantes
May 19, 2014 at 3:03 pm

And… I love Spirit music as Zepp´s…!

Salvador Gonzalez Cervantes
May 19, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I respect California, but this is bullshit; nobody can said, those chords have a unique or even owned origin… Music is universal…

chrispeaches
May 19, 2014 at 2:56 pm

The song does not remain the same. A. Spirit is full of crap. Just a group of “never-have-beens” gettin all whiny and crybaby that somebody else hit it big. B. The songs BARELY sound alike. Just barely. C. What happened to Vanilla Ice vs Queen(and David Bowie), or Green Day vs Chicago(listen to Brain Stew & 25 or 6 to 4) or he’ll Elvis vs the entire christian hymnal! Stupid lawyers

Chrisitan
May 19, 2014 at 1:57 pm

I’m not trying to say that plagiarism is justified, but I don’t believe that they plagiarized in this case, in Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You, where they used the lyrics, that’s blatant plagiarism, even if the music was different. However in the case of Spirit, the riff sounds similar, but i don’t think it is exactly the same. Even if Page used it as a basis, like he has stated in the book conversations with Jimmy Page, he transforms parts of songs, and puts them into his songs. Isn’t this how music has advanced through the years and become what it is? Would any guitarist have a basis for his music if he didn’t use the riffs of others? I think what Led Zeppelin did on Stairway is creative, legal, and fair. So should we now start tearing apart every small lick and force bands to credit the original guitarist that used it? Tons of bands do this! Take someone’s riff and tweak it a bit so that it’s yours. The only reason that Zeppelin gets targeted with this kind of thing is because they’re so big and have deep pockets. If they didn’t sue 40 years ago, they shouldn’t be able to sue now, over what in the past would have stopped the progression of music. If they didn’t have money in the past to sue, their lawyer could have taken a percentage of whatever they would have settled for, and Zeppelin would have settled. It’s greed at the root of this.

Matthew Mason
May 19, 2014 at 12:38 pm

I have listened to both songs and the Spirit song drags and has a low riff where Stairway lifts and since when did lawyers become music critics anyway. There have been a number of law suits against Zeppelin and nothing ever comes of them. We should enjoy music and not try to pic it apart. What ever happened to the Vanilla Ice VS Queen ?

Anonymous
May 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Greedy ass lawyers are at the root of this. Damn those blood-sucking parasites!

Sharky Badtooth
May 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

I sympathize with Spirit but even if Led Zeppelin stole their progression, arrangement and tone they went on to do so much more with it. Art’s not always fair to the artist.

Carl
May 19, 2014 at 10:23 am

Similar but, certainly not the same song.

Anonymous
May 20, 2014 at 8:26 am

The ONLY similarity is a chromatic root walkdown over a minor chord. This is extremely common, especially in jazz and latin music. Almost as common as a 1-4-5 blues progression. Spirit is high if they think this will amount to anything for them.

Sean
May 19, 2014 at 10:05 am

Spirit sounds more like Jethro Tull

Anonymous
May 19, 2014 at 10:04 am

I listened to both and Spirit sounds more like Jethro Tull then Led Zep!

Jeff
May 19, 2014 at 9:17 am

Randy California died 17 years ago…

Alex Young
May 19, 2014 at 9:26 am

Thanks for heads up. The article has been amended.

Anonymous
May 19, 2014 at 9:16 am

Randy California died 17 years ago…

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