Led Zeppelin Lose First Round in Plagiarism Suit

Courtesy of Ron Sachs / Getty Images
Courtesy of Ron Sachs / Getty Images

Led Zeppelin’s first rebuttal has been dismissed in the current “Stairway to Heaven” plagiarism lawsuit. The band will be forced to remain in Pennsylvania to fight for their biggest hit, which heirs of founding Spirit member Randy Craig Wolfe (also known as Randy California) claim was stolen during a collaborative tour in the late 1960s.

Back in May, the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and their associated music companies was made public. The plaintiffs allege that the melody of “Stairway to Heaven” originated in Wolfe’s song, “Taurus,” which Led Zeppelin would have first heard while opening for Spirit in 1968. The plaintiffs are seeking the hit’s apparent value of $560 million, though Page’s personal anecdote about the song’s conception has been reiterated for decades.

Led Zeppelin continue to claim that “Stairway to Heaven” was written while they were holed up in a cabin in Wales. Page has recounted the a-ha moment many times, stating that the tune first came into being when he was showing the band some guitar parts he wanted to piece together into a song. Plant, who had been leaning against the wall writing quietly, apparently surprised the group when he jumped in and started singing, with about about 80% of the lyrics already concocted.

Despite the story’s consistent details over the years, the litigation has moved forward. Led Zeppelin recently initiated their defense in the case by challenging the jurisdiction entirely. In their memorandum to dismiss, they fired the first shot. “The individual defendants are British citizens residing in England, own no property in Pennsylvania and have no contacts with Pennsylvania, let alone ties sufficient to render them essentially at home here.”

The plaintiffs responded by amending their lawsuit, placing special emphasis on why the case is relevant in Pennsylvania, though the British rockers have no connection to that state. “Defendants are subject to specific jurisdiction in this district because they make millions of dollars from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by directly targeting this district for the exploitation of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ through CD sales, digital downloading, radio and television play, advertising, marketing, concert performances, other performances, licensing, and otherwise targeting resident individuals and businesses to profit off the exploitation of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”

U.S. District Court Judge Juan Sánchez favored the Spirit side of the spat and proceeded to deny Led Zeppelin’s motion to dismiss or transfer without prejudice. Sánchez did not offer any reasoning in his written order, but fact that it was ruled without prejudice means the defendants can attempt to dismiss the plagiarism accusations again if they have the grounds.