Members of Led Zeppelin face lawsuit over 'Stairway to Heaven' copyright claims

A US judge has said the song and an instrumental work called 'Taurus' by Spirit had "substantial" similarities

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Members of Led Zeppelin, guitarist Jimmy Page, left, and singer Robert Plant. Image: Evan Agostini / AP/Press Association Images

Two members of band Led Zeppelin are to face a jury over claims they stole the opening chord progressions of their classic Stairway To Heaven.

On Friday, US District Judge Gary Klausner said the 1971 song and an instrumental work called Taurus, written by the band Spirit in 1967,  had "substantial" similarities.

His decision means that Led Zeppelin's lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page will appear on 10 May in a Los Angeles court accused of copyright infringement.

The judge said: "While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure," he wrote.

"What remains is a subjective assessment of the 'concept and feel' of two works ... a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury."

The lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Randy Wolfe, who was Spirit's guitarist and composer of Taurus.

Mr Skidmore says the two bands toured together in 1968 and 1969 and this may have been when Page was inspired to write Stairway To Heaven.

According to Mr Skidmore's lawsuit, Wolfe had complained about the similarity between the two songs not long before he drowned in 1997 while attempting to rescue his son.

Plant and Page, however, say that Wolfe was a songwriter for hire and, therefore, had no claim to copyright.

They also say that the chord progressions in Stairway To Heaven were too well-known for such protection.

Stairway to Heaven has earned Led Zeppelin hundreds of millions of pounds and is one of the most successful rock songs of all time.

But the British rockers often drew inspiration from other groups and some of these have resulted in legal challenges.

As a result, the band has already been forced to alter the credits and pay portions of their royalties for songs such as Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and Whole Lotta Love.