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Lawsuit Accuses Led Zeppelin of Lifting 'Stairway to Heaven'

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on November 03, 2014 8:25 AM

A lawsuit filed by the heirs of Randy Craig Wolfe -- also known as Randy California, guitarist for '60s rock band Spirit -- accuses Led Zeppelin of plagiarizing their mega-hit "Stairway to Heaven" from the relatively obscure Spirit song "Taurus."

The lawsuit, filed in a Pennsylvania federal court, alleges that Led Zeppelin illegally infringed on Wolfe's copyrighted work and unfairly failed to credit Wolfe as a songwriter on "Stairway." The lawsuit is just the latest in a string of lawsuits accusing Led Zeppelin of lifting material from other artists.

What's the backstory behind the family's lawsuit?

Led Zeppelin Toured With Spirit Before Allegedly Writing 'Stairway'

According to the complaint (noteworthy in and of itself for being printed in a font similar to Led Zeppelin's classic logo font), Spirit released a self-titled album in 1968 with an instrumental track titled "Taurus." That same year, Spirit and Led Zeppelin toured the United States together. In 1971, Led Zeppelin released the song "Stairway to Heaven."

Wolfe's heirs allege in the complaint that "to a reasonable observer, the iconic notes, melody, chord progression, structure, tempo, instrumentation, and feel of 'Stairway to Heaven' sound almost identical to Plaintiff's protected expression in 'Taurus.'" Furthermore, the complaint alleges that Led Zeppelin's reaping of financial rewards from the infringement of Wolfe's song was done "with knowledge of the infringement and otherwise willful."

Copyright Ownership Rights

When a person creates an original work such as music, books, movies, artworks, or other creative endeavor, they may be granted copyright protections in their works, including the right to bring suit against those who may infringe on their copyright.

In addition to compensatory damages, Wolfe's heirs are also seeking to recover Led Zeppelin's profits from the infringement, statutory damages of $150,000 per incident of infringement, and punitive damages. Wolfe's heirs are also seeking equitable relief including impoundment, destruction, and the halting of sales of infringing material.

Finally, the suit also requests that the court order that Led Zeppelin and the U.S. Copyright Office be made to include Randy Craig Wolfe as a writer of "Stairway to Heaven."

Lawyers for Led Zeppelin have tried to dismiss the lawsuit, but so far, those efforts have not been successful.

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