Sean Michaels | www.theguardian.com, Monday 19 May 2014
Led Zeppelin accused of stealing Stairway to Heaven Intro...
Ahead of their forthcoming Led Zeppelin IV reissue, a lawyer for the band Spirit is preparing an injunction against Page and co.
"It's been a long time coming," attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy said in a feature story for Business Week. Malofiy represents a songwriting trust for the late Randy California, guitarist for the band Spirit. According to California and his supporters, the opening of Stairway to Heaven copies from Taurus, an instrumental track that appeared on Spirit's eponymous 1968 debut album.
It certainly appears that Jimmy Page, who wrote Stairway to Heaven, would have had the chance to hear California's version. In 1969, Led Zeppelin and Spirit played together in Detroit, Atlanta and Seattle; on 26 December 1968, Zeppelin were the opening act for Spirit's gig at the Denver Auditorium Arena. Taurus was part of Spirit's set list at the time. "It was such a pretty moment, and it would typically come after a big forceful number and always got a good response," recalled Spirit co-founder Mark Andes. There's even evidence that Led Zeppelin integrated a different Spirit song, Fresh Garbage, into their 1969 tour sets.
Page has always said he wrote Stairway to Heaven in 1970 at a cottage in Wales. But music fans have long observed the similarities between the two songs. "I'd say it was a rip-off," California complained to Listener magazine in 1997. "[Led Zeppelin] made millions of bucks on it and never said thank you; never said, 'Can we pay you some money for it?'" But California never brought a lawsuit: "Nobody had any money, and they thought the statute of limitations was done," Mick Skidmore, who manages California's trust, explained to Business Week.
California had a tumultuous and ultimately tragic life. Born Randy Wolfe, he got his nickname from Jimi Hendrix in 1966. But he struggled outside of Spirit, and was allegedly bartering songs for food in the mid-90s. California died in 1997, at age 45, drowning while trying to rescue his son from a sea current.
Now, as Led Zeppelin move to release remastered versions of their original albums, including a cleaned-up version of Stairway to Heaven, Malofiy is readying a copyright infringement suit and an injunction that would block Led Zeppelin IV's reissue. "The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on Stairway to Heaven," he said. Although the United States does have a three-year statute of limitations on copyright infringement cases, this is usually interpreted as a limitation on royalties: Spirit could seek royalties from recent sales of Stairway to Heaven.
Those recent sales might be considerable. Experts have valued Stairway to Heaven at more than $560m (£330m) – well over $10m per year. When Led Zeppelin were previously accused of plagiarising songs – tracks such as Whole Lotta Love, Dazed and Confused, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and The Lemon Song – they settled each of the lawsuits out of court.
A representative for Led Zeppelin's label told Business Week: "Both Led Zeppelin and Warner Music will be offering no comment for this story."