The courtroom did echo with victory for Led Zeppelin on Thursday, as a jury of eight people determined that the group did not rip off the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus” with its signature 1971 anthem “Stairway to Heaven.”
The verdict brought to an end a two-year legal saga that began in 2014, when Michael Skidmore — trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust — filed suit, claiming that “Stairway” infringed on “Taurus,” which was written by Spirit frontman Wolfe, who performed under the name Randy California.
The jury found that, while Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant did have access to “Taurus” before writing “Stairway,” the songs are not substantially similar.
There was no discernible reaction from Page and Plant as the verdict was read.
Skidmore did score one small victory, however, as it was determined that he does own the copyright to “Taurus,” despite claims by Led Zeppelin’s legal team that he didn’t.
Skidmore’s attorney, Francis Malofiy, told TheWrap after the verdict was read that the case could be appealed.
“There are many appealable issues,” Malofiy said. “Obviously I will have to discuss with my client.”
In a statement following the verdict, Page and Plant said they are glad to put the issue to rest.
“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” the musicians said. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
The verdict was preceded by a bit of last-minute drama, as jurors asked to hear “Stairway” and “Taurus” one more time before rendering a verdict.
The jury, which began deliberations the previous day, sent a note requesting to hear the audio for “Taurus,” as well as the intro to “Stairway to Heaven,” twice in a row on Thursday. The jury members closed their eyes while listening to the audio clips.
Skidmore’s lawsuit contended that Led Zeppelin had shared a number of concert bills with Spirit in the former’s early days. During the trial, Zeppelin Page, Plant and bassist John Paul Jones testified that they didn’t recall seeing Spirit play live.
Page went so far as to say that he hadn’t heard “Taurus” until recent years, when comparisons between the two songs began surfacing on the internet. The guitarist did admit to having Spirit’s debut album — which contains “Taurus” — in his record collection, though he said he was unaware of how it got there.
During the trial, the court viewed video testimony from Michael Ware, who claimed to have seen Plant in the audience at a Spirit show at Birmingham, England club Mother’s in 1970, while former Spirit bassist Mark Andes testified that Plant was at the meet-and-greet prior to the show, and that the two drank and played snooker following the concert.
Plant pleaded fuzzy memory while testifying during the trial, telling the court, “I’ve no recollection of almost anybody I’ve ever hung out with.”
The trial, which began on June 14, was dramatic from the start. On the first day, with U.S. district court judge R. Gary Klausner warning Malofiy that he risked a mistrial by playing a video that Zeppelin lawyer Peter Anderson claimed wasn’t an agreed-upon exhibit.
On another day in the trial, Klausner sustained dozens of objections against Malofiy brought by Anderson.
The week-plus courtroom standoff also had its moments of humor. After Page testified that he started playing guitar at 12 and took up session work by 17, Malofiy noted, “You had a gift at playing guitar.” To which Page replied, “Well, yeah!”