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‘Stairway To Heaven’ plagiarism case submitted to court

By | Published on Tuesday 3 June 2014

Led Zeppelin

Legal papers have been filed in a copyright infringement lawsuit that has been brewing for a few weeks now, in which Led Zeppelin stand accused of robbing most of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ off an American band they supported in 1968.

The litigation has been filed by lawyer Francis Malofiy on behalf of the estate of songwriter Randy Craig Wolfe, aka Randy California, who was a founder member of the LA-based psychedelic rock outfit Spirit. Led Zep supported Spirit at the very start of their career, and according to Malofiy’s lawsuit Wolfe’s use of audio-enhancing effects on that tour had a big influence on Robert Plant, Jimmy Page et al.

But too big an influence when it came to Page’s intricate guitar stylings on the band’s seminal 1971 track ‘Stairway To Heaven’, says Malofiy’s lawsuit, a song which the attorney and his clients reckon borrows heavily from Wolfe’s track ‘Taurus’, an instrumental the guitarist played on the tour where Page and co were supporting.

Quite why it’s taken 43 years for anyone in the Wolfe camp to speak up about this alleged plagiarism is presumably a question that will be at the heart of any legal response from Page’s people, though the Led Zep guitarist has already called the allegations against him and his band “ridiculous”.

Malofiy’s legal papers concede that Led Zeppelin are “one of the greatest bands in history, and their musical talent is boundless”, but, according to Billboard, go on to claim that the band has been accused of borrowing from other musicians’ work without permission at least seventeen times before, in a number of cases allegedly settling and subsequently crediting the creators of ripped off songs.

The somewhat ambitious litigation goes on to demand statutory damages, the defendants’ profits from ‘Stairway To Heaven’, punitive damages and a credit for Wolfe on the Led Zep record. The lawsuit adds that any funds obtained from the legal action will go into a trust that buys musical instruments for needy children.

It remains to be seen if this one actually proceeds to court.

Aside from dismissing all the claims against the band, Led Zep’s people might note that Malofiy himself was recently criticised by a judge hearing a separate copyright infringement claim against Usher, with the lawyer accused of tricking a defendant into providing an incriminating testimony without legal counsel by assuring him he was only a witness in the case. Malofiy denies that claim, but the judge said the attorney had behaved “disgracefully” as he threw out the copyright claim against Usher.