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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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October xx, 1968 - Led Zeppelin is recorded
October 19, 1968 - Final performance as the New Yardbirds
October 31, 1969 - Led Zeppelin II is released in the US
October 17, 1969 - Bonham is thrilled to play Carnegie Hall where Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa have performed
October 23, 1970 - Led Zeppelin III is released in the US
October xx, 1970 - The press lash out at the band over the Led Zeppelin III acoustic content
October xx, 1971 - Page and Plant venture around Thailand and India after the Japan tour
October 18, 1972 - Zeppelin rehearse at the Rainbow Theater for a UK tour
October xx, 1973 - Each member performs an individual film sequence for their concept film
October 31, 1974 - Swan Song hosts a party for the launch of its UK division
October xx, 1975 - Led Zeppelin decide not to tour and concentrate on recording new material
October 20, 1976 - The Song Remains The Same premieres at New York’s Cinema One
October xx, 1977 - Jimmy starts assembling a Led Zeppelin live album from recordings as far back as 1969
October xx, 1978 - Jones and Bonham record with Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios
October xx, 1978 - Rehearsals for In Through The Out Door in London
October xx, 1979 - All nine Led Zeppelin albums enter the Billboards Top 200 -- no other band has ever achieved this
October 10, 1980 - A private funeral is held for John Bonham at Rushock church in Worcestershire
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