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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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December 16, 1968 - Zep plays Bath Pavilion for a mere £75.
December 26, 1968 - First American concert at the Coliseum in Denver, CO
December xx, 1969 - Led Zeppelin are reported to have sold 5 million dollars worth of albums in the US
December 11, 1969 - Led Zeppelin are presented gold and platinum discs for their first two albums
December xx, 1970 - The band enters Island Studios to begin work on the fourth album
December xx, 1971 - The band plays a few low-key shows back in England
December 23, 1972 - The band break for Christmas holiday after a London gig
December xx, 1973 - John Paul Jones works on studio productions for Madeline Bell
December xx, 1973 - Joe Massot films Jimmy Page’s fantasy sequence at Loch Ness
December 19, 1974 - John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page jam with Bad Company at the Rainbow Theater
December 10, 1975 - Led Zeppelin play a 45-minute show with Norman Hale at Behan’s in Jersey
December xx, 1976 - Led Zeppelin rehearses for the 1977 tour
December 25, 1976 - It’s announced that Plant and Bonham will reunite with the Band of Joy for three shows in the new year
December xx, 1977 - The band minus Robert gather to discuss Led Zeppelin’s future plans
December xx, 1978 - The new album is completed quickly at Polar Studios and mixed at Jimmy’s Plumpton Studio
December xx, 1979 - John Bonham considers joining Paul McCartney’s Wings
December 29, 1979 - The band minus Jimmy Page attend the Paul McCartney And Wings Kampuchea befefit show
December 04, 1980 - Led Zeppelin issue the following statement not to carry on as a band: "We wish it to be known, that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the deep sense of harmony felt by ourselves and our manager have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were."
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