Led Zeppelin Embroiled in Copyright Infringement Suit
In Pennsylvania, attorneys are battling over where a lawsuit filed against the surviving members of Led Zeppelin will be heard. The lawsuit was brought last May by the trust of former Spirit guitarist Randy California, alleging that the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven” has a riff that was stolen from a song called “Taurus,” an instrumental track released on Spirit’s 1968 self-titled debut album. Attorneys representing Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones have asked that the case be moved to a federal court in California, saying the musicians do not live in Pennsylvania and have nothing to do with the state. The lawyer representing California’s trust, meanwhile, want to keep the case in Philadelphia, arguing that the band has had “systematic and continuous contact” with Pennsylvania because their records are still sold in stores and their music is played on radio.
The stakes in the copyright infringement case over “Stairway to Heaven” could be huge. The song was estimated to have earned some $562 million in royalties and sales, according to Conde Nast Portfolio Magazine, and that was back in 2008. The song has naturally earned more through royalties in the last six years, and was even re-released last year as the band reissued several early releases. An attorney for Warner Brothers, Zeppelin’s music label, argued that the Philadelphia court lacks jurisdiction because neither they nor any of the band’s members have any ties to the city. The attorney argued further that Spirit hailed from California, and many potential witnesses and documents are located there.
The judge currently presiding over the “Stairway to Heaven” infringement case declined to offer a guess on when he might rule on the motion to move the case. Led Zeppelin hasn’t played in the state since July 1985, when they performed for the first time as a band following the 1980 death of drummer John Bonham. According to court documents, Page performed in the state 23 times between 1968 and 1999, and attorneys for the plaintiff pointed out that Page highlighted many of his Pennsylvania performances in his 2010 autobiography. Interestingly, Spirit and Led Zeppelin toured together extensively in 1968 and 1969, well before the 1971 release of “Stairway to Heaven”.