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Policy: Law

40+ years later, Led Zeppelin sued for copyright infringement over 'Stairway to Heaven'

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Entertainment,Music,Law,Civil Suits

Can a person really buy a stairway to heaven? Perhaps not, but they might have enough money to afford something almost as ridiculously expensive if they successfully sue for a cut of the songwriting royalties to Led Zeppelin's most revered rock classic.

The estate of a Los Angeles musician who died in 1997 is doing precisely that: It has gone to court to accuse Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of copying one of "Stairway's" now-famous guitar parts from another group's song recorded four years earlier.

The late musician was Randy California (born Randy Wolfe) of the group Spirit, and the earlier song was Spirit's work "Taurus." In an interview before he died, as NPR reports, California once noted the similarity between the two passages and that Led Zep, before its members became rock royalty, had once been the opening act on an American tour for Spirit.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Businessweek's Vernon Silver points out that an estimation of "Stairway's" total earnings done several years ago was $562 million. Even a one-percent share of that haul would be $5.6 million.

Silver also recalls that this isn't Led Zep's first plagiarism rodeo. The band had to cut blues legend Willie Dixon in on the royalties of "Whole Lotta Love" after Dixon's daughter sued, as well as having to cough up credit on "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," "Dazed and Confused" (later the inspiration of the title for the Richard Linklater film) and "The Lemon Song," an apparent variation on a Howlin' Wolf song.

The NPR piece includes audio of the original Spirit song, while Businessweek's story is accompanied by a chart breaking down the ripoff allegations.

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