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Led Zeppelin has won its copyright trial over Stairway to Heaven

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A California jury ruled the band didn't plagiarize their 1971 anthem

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A Los Angeles jury has ruled that Led Zeppelin didn't copy a riff from Spirit's 1968 instrumental "Taurus" for their own 1971 hit "Stairway to Heaven," according to The Hollywood Reporter. While the jury agreed that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (the song's co-writers) had heard "Taurus" before writing "Stairway to Heaven," they didn't find the two songs similar enough to constitute a copyright infringement on Page and Plant's part.

The song's legal journey began in May 2014, when Michael Skidmore — a trustee representing the estate of former Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe — filed a suit claiming Led Zeppelin had knocked off "Taurus" for the "Stairway to Heaven" introduction. (The suit was enabled by the band's decision to remaster "Stairway to Heaven" as part of a reissue of its parent album Led Zeppelin IV in 2014, a release that refreshed the statute of limitations on the song's alleged infringement.) A judge sent the suit to trial in April of this year and the trial began in earnest on June 14th, with Plant, Page, and bandmate John Paul Jones all giving testimony.

What are the stakes for musicians and songwriters?

The verdict is the latest in a series of high-profile copyright rulings that have earned the interest of the larger musical community. A different jury found that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied Marvin Gaye's "Got to Give It Up" for their 2013 hit "Blurred Lines" in March 2015, a ruling that cost Thicke and Williams $7.3 million. (The penalty was later reduced to $5.3 million, and Thicke and Williams appealed the ruling in December 2015.) Later that year, a judge ruled that Jay Z and Timbaland weren't liable for an uncleared sample of Baligh Hamdi's "Khosara Khosara" included in the rapper's 2000 hit "Big Pimpin'," a decision that meant the case wasn't seen by a jury.

These cases have attracted attention because of the impact they could have on future copyright infringement lawsuits. It's possible the stakes are even higher: a May story in The Globe and Mail claimed a verdict against Led Zeppelin could have "major consequences for the future of musical creativity." With that said, you can argue that musicians have already become more cautious when assigning songwriting credits as a means of protecting themselves from similar allegation. A recent Pitchfork article noted that stars like Beyoncé, Sam Smith, and Mark Ronson have all opted for generosity in situations where they could've found themselves vulnerable; others, like Justin Bieber and Skrillex, have shrugged off requests for credit only to be hit with suits in response.


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