Testimony begins in Led Zeppelin copyright lawsuit trial

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former member of the band Spirit testified Wednesday that guitar riffs used by his group and on Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” sounded the same.

Mark Andes testified in a copyright infringement lawsuit that claims Led Zeppelin lifted the famous “Stairway” intro from Spirit’s instrumental, “Taurus.”

Andes was shown a video of an acoustic guitarist playing bits of both compositions and said they sounded the same.

“Stairway” was recorded in 1971.

Andes testified that Spirit played “Taurus” in 1968 at a Denver show where Zeppelin was the opening act, and that in 1970 he and Zeppelin singer Robert Plant drank beer and played the billiards-like game snooker after a Spirit show in Birmingham, England.

“Yeah, we hung out. We had a blast,” Andes said.

A lawyer for the estate of the late Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, claimed in opening statements Tuesday that the British megastars lifted the passage.

“This was a song that Randy California had written for the love of his life, Robin. That was her sign, Taurus,” Francis Malofiy said.

Wolfe drowned in 1997 saving his son in Hawaii.

A lawyer for Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page said Tuesday that they didn’t hear “Taurus” until decades after it was recorded.

“Forty five years ago, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote some of the best songs in rock ‘n’ roll history,” said Peter Anderson, who claimed Wolfe’s estate doesn’t even own the copyright to “Taurus.” “‘Stairway to Heaven’ was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and them alone.”

A judge and eight jurors will decide whether the opening two minutes played on guitar is substantially similar to Wolfe’s work — a lesser-known song from a band that had several albums on Billboard’s Top 200 record chart in the 1960s and ’70s.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled in April that evidence presented in hearings made a credible case that Led Zeppelin may have heard “Taurus” performed before their song was created.

Page, Plant and bandmate John Paul Jones are all expected to testify at the trial, though Jones has been dismissed as a defendant in the case.

Both pieces are based on a descending chromatic chord sequence in A minor that was used in other well-known pieces, such as “My Funny Valentine,” said Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. He is not involved in the trial.

“It’s a well-used musical device. We can say with certainty that that chord sequence is not original,” he said. “It wasn’t written originally in 1968” when “Taurus” was released.

The chord progression dates back as far as the 1600s and other similarities also exist, Anderson said.

“Do re mi appears in both songs,” Anderson said.

As the opening minutes of “Stairway to Heaven” were played Tuesday, Plant looked at the jury and Page nodded his head to the tune. Anderson then played a recording of a piano interpretation of “Taurus” that had only a vague similarity.

Malofiy showed videos of guitar interpretations of both songs, which sounded more alike. When played simultaneously, similarities and differences were audible and could be seen in the finger work.

Led Zeppelin has settled several similar copyright disputes over songs such as “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused,” but the judge has barred Malofiy from introducing evidence from those cases.

“Stairway to Heaven” has generated hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.


Associated Press writer Robert Jablon contributed to this report.