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Led Zeppelin Judge Declines to Dismiss Stairway to Heaven Copyright Suit



A lawsuit claiming that Stairway to Heaven was filched from an obscure song by the band Spirit has survived its first legal challenge.

The Philadelphia judge in the copyright infringement case against Led Zeppelin ruled yesterday that the suit shouldn't be dismissed and instead ordered it transferred to federal court in Los Angeles.

To many ears, the opening notes of Stairway to Heaven sound a lot like Taurus, an instrumental piece released on Spirit's debut album in 1968, according to the complaint (decide for yourself here). At the end of that year and throughout 1969, Spirit and Led Zeppelin shared the bill at several concerts.

Lawyers for surviving Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones, along with Warner Music Group, had asked U.S. District Judge Juan Sanchez either to toss out the case or to move it to California, citing the presence of several relevant witnesses and legal documents there. Spirit signed its first record contract in California, and its late guitarist's trust was formed in the state. The lawyer for the trust of Spirit guitarist Randy California, which brought the suit a year ago, said it should stay in Pennsylvania, in part because the three musicians had played the classic-rock song at the 1985 Live Aid famine-relief concert in Philadelphia.

The new venue, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, might help the defense, which according to the ruling plans to challenge the creation of the trust. On the other hand, it's the same court where a jury ruled in March that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke should pay $7.4 million for infringing on Marvin Gaye's 1977 Got to Give It Up with their 2013 hit, Blurred Lines.

The fight has potentially high stakes. By 2008, when Conde Nast Portfolio magazine published an estimate that included royalties and record sales for Stairway to Heaven, the 1971 hit had earned at least $562 million. If the suit succeeds, a three-year statute of limitations would limit the award to the most recent earnings. The song was rereleased last year as part of the band's reissue of its first albums.

Sanchez said he declined to dismiss the suit "in the interest of justice," because the improper venue could be fixed by sending the case to California. In his order, he said the Led Zeppelin members weren't subject to jurisdiction in Pennsylvania, in part because they don't live there and hadn't appeared to specifically target the district for selling their music. Because of the statute of limitations, the Live Aid concert wasn't relevant, he wrote.

From: Bloomberg

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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History


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January 09, 1944 - James Patrick Page was born in Heston, Middlesex
January 03, 1946 - John Baldwin was born in Sidcup, Kent
January 02, 1946 - Led Zeppelin Tour Manager Richard Cole was born in Kensal Rise, London, England
January 05, 1967 - Jimmy Page begins recording Little Games with The Yardbirds at De Lane Lea Studios in London.
January 17, 1969 - Led Zeppelin released in the US
January xx, 1970 - Led Zeppelin now play without support acts in order to perform longer sets
January 09, 1970 - Royal Albert Hall gig filmed and recorded for documentary that is eventually scraped. (But was recalled for 2003’s DVD)
January xx, 1971 - Recording continues at Headley Grange
January xx, 1972 - Page has a studio built into his home
January 02, 1973 - Plant’s car breaks down and Bonham and he barely make the Sheffield City Hall gig
January 22, 1973 - Led Zeppelin record a live gig at Southampton University
January xx, 1974 - Recording Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange
January xx, 1974 - The band resigns with Atlantic and forms their own label
January 03, 1975 - Jimmy breaks a finger at Victoria Station just a week before the European warm up shows
January 17, 1975 - The band rehearses in Minneapolis for the upcoming US tour. Bootleg "Johnny Kidd And The Pirates" evolves out of this rehearsal
January xx, 1976 - Jimmy contemplates the release of The Song Remains The Same film but, continues work on the soundtrack
January 01, 1976 - In Paris, Robert takes his first unaided steps since his car accident
January xx, 1977 - Rehearsals for US tour take place at Manticore Studios in Fulham
January 24, 1977 - Bonham and Plant watch The Damned perform at the Roxy in London
January xx, 1978 - Media still claims Led Zeppelin have broke up
January 21, 1979 - Robert Plant is now proud father to son Logan Romero
January xx, 1980 - Zeppelin donate Candy Store Rock to a benefit album to benefit children
January 31, 1995 - Jimmy Page escaped being knifed when a fan rushed the stage at a Page and Plant gig at Auburn Hills, Michigan. The fan was stopped by two security guards, who he knifed instead. After his arrest, he told police that he wanted to kill Jimmy Page because of the Satanic music he was playing.
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