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Robert Plant calls ‘Stairway To Heaven’ copyright lawsuit “unfortunate” and “unpleasant”

Led Zeppelin were sued in 2014 for copyright infringement on their hit song, winning the case two years later

By Will Richards

Robert Plant with long hair and a bear, looking sideways at the camera while sunlight comes through a window
Robert Plant. (Credit: Press).

Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant has reflected on the band’s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ court case, calling it “unfortunate” and “unpleasant”.

In 2014, the band were sued by the band Spirit, who alleged that Plant and co. took elements of their 1968 song ‘Taurus’ for ‘Stairway To Heaven’, which came out in 1971 and went on to be a worldwide hit.

Two years later, Zeppelin won the court case, with a judge ruling that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ did not plagiarise ‘Taurus’.

In a new interview for BBC Radio 4, Clive Anderson asked Plant: “You had to experience the American legal system with ‘Stairway to Heaven’ arguing. What sort of experience was that? That lasted quite a few days, didn’t it? Somebody claiming copyright.”

Plant responded: “What can you do? I just had to sit there, I was instructed to sit directly opposite the jury, don’t look at them but just don’t look at anybody, just sit there for eight hours.

“As much as I am musical, I cannot comment on anything musical. I just sing.”

He added: “There are zillions and zillions of songs that were carrying the same chord progression, so it was very unfortunate, and it was unpleasant for everybody.”

It was reported last year that the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ trial may go back to court. After the 2014 trial concluded in 2016, a new one was ordered by the US appeals court in 2018. That trial then also ruled in favour of Led Zeppelin in 2020.

Hoping for the suit to be re-opened, the estate for Spirit guitarist Randy California argued: “The [Ninth Circuit Court] opinion is a disaster for the creatives whose talent is often preyed upon. By the same token, it is a gift to the music industry and its attorneys – enthusiastically received – by a circuit whose own judge once observed: ‘Our circuit is the most hostile to copyright owners of all the circuits.’

“The ‘court of appeals for the Hollywood Circuit’ has finally given Hollywood exactly what it has always wanted: a copyright test which it cannot lose. Portending what is to come, in the days following the decision’s filing multiple major copyright rulings have already dramatically favoured industry defendants. The proverbial canary in the coal mine has died; it remains to be seen if the miners have noticed.”

Elsewhere, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page has expressed regret at drafting in Phil Collins on drums for the band’s reunion set at Live Aid.

Collins was one of two drummers to fill in for the late John Bonham, who died in 1980, for the charity show at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. “The drummer couldn’t get the beginning of ‘Rock and Roll’,” said Page. “So we were in real trouble with that.”