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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

June xx, 1969 - More recording for Led Zeppelin II at Morgan Studios
June 29, 1969 - Led Zeppelin play the prestigious Royal Albert Hall
June 28, 1970 - Zeppelin reach mass acceptance in Britain by playing Bath
June xx, 1971 - A news report claims Led Zep to play at an aid relief concert for Pakistan
June xx, 1972 - More recording sessions for Houses Of The Holy
June 21, 1972 - Eighth American tour begins in Denver, CO, almost four years since Zeppelin’s American debut
June 03, 1973 - Zeppelin play the Fabulous Forum in LA, a favorite venue to the band
June xx, 1973 - The band takes a mid-tour holiday in Hawaii
June xx, 1974 - Promoter Fred Bannister announces that Led Zeppelin will play Knebworth, the band declines
June xx, 1975 - John Bonham loses his license for six months over a drunk driving charge
June xx, 1976 - Filmmaker Kenneth Anger tells media that Jimmy Page is partly responsible for the failure of his film over the delayed soundtrack he provided
June 07, 1977 - The first of six nights at Madison Square Gardens
June xx, 1978 - Robert feels new life within Led Zeppelin again
June 26, 1979 - The entire Led Zeppelin line up appear at a Dave Edmunds show and party afterwards
June 17, 1980 - Led Zeppelin open their European (and last) tour at Westfallenhalle in Dortmund
June 27, 1980 - Zeppelin abandon their Nuremburg show after three numbers when Bonham collapses from exhaustion
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