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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

August xx, 1968 - Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham hold their first rehearsals in Gerrard Street, London
August xx, 1968 - Page, Grant and Chris Dreja go see Robert Plant perform at a Birmingham Teachers College. Page invites Plant to his Pangbourne house and offers him the vocalist position
August xx, 1969 - Peter Grant starts enforcing the 90/10 split in favor of the band
August 31, 1969 - The third US tour ends at the Texas International Festival in Dallas
August xx, 1970 - Zeppelin earn no less than $25,000 per show
August 17, 1970 - Page completes mixing of the Led Zeppelin III in Memphis
August 19, 1971 - The seventh North American tour opens in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
August xx, 1972 - Jimmy Page purchases Plumpton Manor in Sussex
August xx, 1973 - Jimmy starts arranging ideas for the next album
August xx, 1974 - Film maker Peter Clifton has the band re-enact scenes at Shepperton Studios
August 31, 1974 - John Paul Jones appears with David Gilmour and Steve Broughton as Roy Harper’s backing band for the night
August 04, 1975 - Robert Plant and his family are seriously injured as their car veers off the road on the island of Rhodes
August 08, 1975 - Rehearsal for Zeppelin’s Eleventh North American tour postponed after Robert is involved in a serious car accident
August xx, 1976 - Arrangements are made to show the upcoming Zep film in theaters
August xx, 1976 - Jimmy Page finishes mixing the soundtrack for the movie The Song Remains The Same
August 14, 1977 - Jimmy jams with Ron Wood at a charity golf tournament for underprivileged children
August xx, 1978 - Robert plays with Dr. Feelgood and Phil Carson in Ibiza, Spain while on holiday
August 11, 1979 - Led Zeppelin perform a second show at Knebworth due to overwhelming ticket demands
August xx, 1980 - Jimmy moves into his new Windsor home, which was purchased from Michael Caine
August 14, 2009 - It Might Get Loud opened in select theatres in NY, WA & CA.
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