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Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” Trial Scheduled to Begin Today; Copyright Expert Says Lawsuit Is “Silly”


Gijsbert Hanekroot/RedfernsThe trial to decide whether Led Zeppelin‘s members partly copied the 1968 Spirit tune “Taurus” when they wrote their classic song “Stairway to Heaven” is scheduled to begin this morning in Los Angeles. Attorneys for late Spirit frontman Randy California‘s estate will seek to prove that Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant used elements of “Taurus” in their famous rock anthem without crediting California.

A judge on Monday struck down a pair of motions from the plaintiff side to exclude Zeppelin’s music expert from testifying and to reconsider a summary judgment order reducing any recoverable damages by 50 percent, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

ABC Radio spoke recently with Dr. E. Michael Harrington, an music-copyright expert and chairman of the music business program at Nashville’s SAE Institute, who says he doesn’t see a whole lotta merit in the suit.

“It is a very silly lawsuit, ’cause the judge doesn’t know music well, or maybe this hasn’t been presented to him well,” he maintains. “There shouldn’t be a lawsuit in this at all.”

Harrington says that the similar aspects that exist in the two songs — including the use of a descending chromatic scale — have commonly appeared in musical pieces for hundreds of years. He suggests that because of this, “Stairway to Heaven” should not be considered derivative of “Taurus.”

“[C]opyright law is about original works of authorship and original expression,” Harrington points out. “[T]here’s nothing original about something that dates back to the [1500s] and 1400s, you know? So, this didn’t begin with Spirit.”

Harrington also maintains that the segment of “Taurus” that is similar to “Stairway to Heaven” still features noteworthy differences.

Much of of the harmony involved is different, he stresses, adding, “There’s no lyrics, there’s nothing here. This is really as stupid as anything.”

Harrington adds that if Led Zeppelin loses the case, it would continue what he considers an alarming trend that includes the lawsuit that Marvin Gaye‘s family won against Robin Thicke that involved the pop star’s dance hit “Blurred Lines.”

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