The “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarism saga has ended after six years of litigation and appeals, with the United States Supreme Court declining to hear the case.
Featured on Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album, which was released in 1971, “Stairway” went on to become their biggest hit and one of the most celebrated rock songs of all time. It’s currently #31 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
Decades passed before guitarist Jimmy Page was accused of having stolen “Stairway”’s opening riff from a song called “Taurus” by the American rock group Spirit. “Taurus” is an instrumental track on Spirit’s debut 1968 record.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by the estate of Randy California, the late Spirit founder and guitarist. According to the suit, Zeppelin wrote “Stairway” after singer Robert Plant attended a Spirit concert in 1970. It also noted that, in 1968, Zeppelin opened for a Spirit show at which “Taurus” was performed.
While California never brought a copyright case against Page and Plant in his lifetime, he maintained that the riff was stolen.
“I’d say it was a rip-off,” he said shortly before his death in 1997. “They made millions of bucks on it and never said thank you, never said, ‘Can we pay you some money for it?'”
The case went to trial in 2016 and lasted six days. In court Plant claimed not to recall the Spirit gig he was alleged to have attended, explaining that he was in a car accident later that night that did lasting damage to his memory. Meanwhile Page argued that the chord progression wasn’t unique to “Taurus” but in fact had “been around forever.” He also said he had not heard the song until well after “Stairway” was written.
The jury decided in Zeppelin’s favor, finding that the two songs are “not intrinsically similar.”
Two years later the verdict was overturned, only to be reinstated last March by a US appeals court. California’s estate then appealed to the Supreme Court, whose rejection of the case officially closes the book on the matter. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page remain the sole composers of “Stairway to Heaven.”