Judge clears 'Stairway to Heaven' copyright case for trial


If you listen to Taurus, it’s impossible not to see the close similarities. Especially starting at around 42 seconds and again around 55. The similarities certainly strike me as to close to be coincidental, particularly since Zeppelin did play in the same venues as Spirit and could have heard them playing Taurus.

Sure, it sounds ‘similar’, but most of the actual notes are completely different…
Led Zeppelin stole plenty of songs, but this isn’t one of them.

It seems like they stole that one acoustic guitar riff anyway. Why now though? Isn’t there some sort of statute of limitations for copyright violation? Isn’t it less than the 45 years it’s been since Stairway to Heaven came out?

I don’t know anything about copyright law, but the judge is letting it go forward so apparently there’s no applicable statute of limitations in this case

The statute of limitations no longer applies here because they released a remastered (i.e. “new”) version of the song a couple of years ago.

In previous cases the lawsuit would award a percentage of profits made in the last 5-10 years or whatever the SoL is. For a perennial seller like “Stairway to Heaven”, they would be substantial.

Doesn’t sound like near enough to justify a law-suit to me. . . but, musically ignorant people can see similarities when very few exist. . . like with the Marvin Gaye/Blurred Lines suit. In that one the percussion and instrumentation/production were very similar but the melody, chords and lyrics were no match at all. This could go any way.

Well they’re going to win if it’s a non-musical judge because it sounds identical to non-musical me.

This is why all the questions people ask about copyright here end in “I don’t know” as an answer.

Nobody knows. We don’t know. Lawyers don’t know. Case law gives no real guidance. Any case result is good for that case and may or may not be applicable to any other case.

This Guardian articlelinks to a musician demonstrating the similarities and differences pretty well.

Seems arguable to me.

That was informative. Thanks.

He talks about the things that struck me. The phrasing and the overall feel.

I can see both sides of the argument, plus I suppose there’s a question of what constitutes plagiarism. If the Beach Boys’ wanted to make an issue of it, does “Back in The USSR” plagiarize the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” because of one short phrase?

How does Weird Al do what he does? Supposedly he always asks permission but there are apparently no formal agreements and there was at least one incident where there was a misunderstanding about permission that led to hard feelings, when Weird Al made a parody of Coolio’s Gansta’s paradise (“Amish Paradise”). As far as I know there were no lawsuits over that. Can he do it because it’s parody?


Weird Al doesn’t have to get permission because parody is protected as fair use. As he explains on his website, he seeks permission because A) he wants to be on friendly terms with the artists he parodies, and B) If he has permission he can get co-songwriter credit (and thus a share of the writer’s royalties) on his versions.

Yes is true, but partial. Does Weird Al claim ownership of the song? No. Does he keep all the royalties? No. That’s totally different behavior. It’s the exact opposite of what Led Zeppelin is infamous for and what they are being accused of here.

Fair use and parody are separate and distinct defenses. Parody can’t be part of a fair use defense: fair use is of the exact original. I will bet that Weird Al never uses the term on his website.

What is Fair Use?

Given the stupidity of the last music infringement case (Pharrell) it seems unlikely this one will end differently. I can’t think of a worse case scenario than a jury full of non-musicians deciding if a tune infringes on another one. It’s a very subtle distinction that requires understanding how melodies and harmonies work.

The rare case that got it right was John Fogerty’s case. He managed to convince the jury that he hadn’t infringed on his own CCR song. The jury had enough sense to understand, duh, that Fogerty has a unique sound that carries through all the music he writes and performs. Similarities between CCR songs and his solo songs are to be expected.

I’m usually an advocate of the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use pages, so of course I’ll defer to them.

These cases do nothing but ruin creativity and the freedom musicians need to craft music. These cases are stifling their ability to express themselves and make a living.

There might be a rare case of very blatant ripping off of somebody’s music that needs to be pursued. But it needs to be extremely obvious and easy to prove. Cases that obvious would normally end in a out of court settlement.