Led Zeppelin emerge victorious in long-running Stairway to Heaven copyright battle

Robert Plant and Jimmy Page performing live onstage with Led Zeppelin
(Image credit: Robert Knight Archive/Redferns)

The copyright battle over Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, in which the estate of late Spirit guitarist and songwriter Randy Wolfe (aka Randy California) accused Led Zeppelin of lifting the song's iconic opening acoustic guitar intro from the 1968 Spirit instrumental, Taurus, has seemingly gone on forevermore.

But now it appears that the case is finally over, and Zep – or, more specifically, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant – have emerged victorious, with an announcement that the US Supreme Court has declined to take up the case.

This means that a March 2020 decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which ruled in a 9-2 decision that Zeppelin did not steal the intro, will stand.

That ruling affirmed a decision by a Los Angeles jury in 2016. But at that time, a new trial was ordered after errors were found in the jury instruction process.

In particular, jurors had not been allowed to hear sound recordings of Taurus and Stairway, due to the fact that a judge had determined that only Wolfe’s sheet music, and not the actual sound recording, was protected under the 1909 Copyright Act. Taurus was written before federal law covered sound recordings.

The 2020 ruling, however, reaffirmed the earlier decision based on the 1909 Copyright Act, determining that the court was not in error for not allowing the jury to hear the Taurus sound recording at the original trial.

“The trial and appeal process has been a long climb up the stairway to heaven,” circuit Judge Margaret McKeown stated at the time.

Led Zeppelin have yet to comment on the decision.

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Richard Bienstock

Rich is the co-author of the best-selling Nöthin' But a Good Time: The Uncensored History of the '80s Hard Rock Explosion. He is also a recording and performing musician, and a former editor of Guitar World magazine and executive editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine. He has authored several additional books, among them Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the companion to the documentary of the same name.