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Is copyright infringement a Stairway to Hell?

Did Led Zeppelin rip off their most iconic song, ‘Stairway to Heaven?’

There’s a famous scene in the iconic 1992 film “Wayne’s World” where protagonist Wayne Campbell is forbidden to play an iconic song on a guitar he covets. His response? “No Stairway? Denied!”

That phrase could soon be uttered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the site of a trial that will embroil the seminal ‘70s rock band Led Zeppelin. The charge? That the band’s most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven,” is a rip-off of another tune.

The estate of the late Randy California, who was part of the lesser-known ‘60s band Spirit, charges Led Zeppelin with copyright infringement. The estate claims that Jimmy Page’s band, which opened for Spirit during a late 60s tour, swiped large portions of the music from the song “Taurus.” California’s estate filed the suit on May 31, 2014, more than 40 years after the release of Stairway.

In an interview conducted shortly before California’s death in 1997, the musician stated that he felt Stairway was a rip-off. Jimmy Page, guitarist from Led Zeppelin, has gone on record saying the claim is “ridiculous.”

In light of the recent “Raging Bull” copyright suit, which was brought nearly 30 years after the debut of the film, one might wonder why it has taken the California estate so long to bring the suit. 

“Justice is available to those who can afford it,” Francis Malofiy, the attorney representing California’s trust, told CNN. “It’s very very hard for a musician who’s struggling just to keep a roof over his head … to actually go about and fight some of the biggest giants in the music and entertainment industry.”


For more on trademark and copyright law, check out the following:


Big Hunk A' Love? Not from the King

Changes to copyright law could affect streaming music services

Patents, trademarks top of mind for IP counsel in medical technology space

Choosing a trademark that won’t buy you a lawsuit


Senior Editor and Community Manager

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Senior Editor and Community Manager of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance beats. Rich earned a B.A....

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