Watch above: Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is legendary in rock music, but the song’s famous opening riffs are the subject of a lawsuit. Lauren McNabb explains.
TORONTO — One of the most famous riffs in rock history has sparked legal action against Led Zeppelin.
More than four decades after the release of “Stairway to Heaven,” the song’s opening notes are the subject of a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by the estate of Randy California, the late Spirit guitarist.
The lawsuit alleges the “Stairway to Heaven” chord progression is copied from “Taurus,” an instrumental piece California wrote that appeared on Spirit’s debut album in 1968.
Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are credited as writers of “Stairway to Heaven.”
According to Conde Nast Portfolio, “Stairway to Heaven” had earned at least $562 million by 2008. Never released as a single, the song appears on Led Zeppelin’s fourth studio album, which has sold more than 23 million copies.
California’s trust is seeking damages and an injunction preventing Led Zeppelin from releasing a remastered version of the album in June. It is asking that California be given a writing credit on the song.
The guitarist, who died in 1997 at 45 trying to save his son from a rip current, had earlier told Listener magazine he believed “Stairway to Heaven” is a “ripoff.”
He added: “The guys made millions of bucks on it and never said ‘Thank you,’ never said ‘Can we pay you some money for it?’ It’s kind of a sore point with me.”
Jason Elzy of Warner Music told Bloomberg Businessweek: “Both Led Zeppelin and Warner Music will be offering no comment for this story.”
BELOW: Listen to both and judge for yourself.