The Hammer of the Law may be coming down on Led Zeppelin over a claim that "Stairway to Heaven" was stolen, partially, from another group.
Lawyers for the band Spirit claim the intro to the Zeppelin masterpiece sounds very similar to Spirit's 1968 instrumental track "Taurus."
Zeppelin guitarist/producer Jimmy Page has always said that he wrote "Stairway to Heaven" in 1970 at a cottage in Wales. And let's face it, for a whole lotta Zeppelin enthusiasts, the Spirit accusation probably seems preposterous and pathetic.
As for Zeppelin's official take on it, the band's label told Bloomberg Businessweek: "Both Led Zeppelin and Warner Music will be offering no comment for this story."
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing late Spirit guitarist Randy California said he will file a copyright infringement lawsuit and attempt to block the long-awaited re-release of the album that includes the song: Zeppelin's 1971 studio LP, which is often called "Led Zeppelin IV," Bloomberg Businessweek reports. The injunction argues that one of Page's most memorable guitar lines was swiped from Spirit at a U.S. concert. Led Zeppelin and Spirit performed four shows together in Detroit, Atlanta and Seattle, in 1968 and 1969, and on Dec. 26, 1968, Zeppelin was the opening act for Spirit's gig at the Denver Auditorium Arena.
"It's been a long time coming," attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy said of the lawsuit. "The goal is to give California a writing credit on "'Stairway to Heaven.'"
But Spirit's beef with Zeppelin isn't only about "Stairway." According to the Guardian, there's also evidence claiming that Zeppelin integrated a different Spirit song, "Fresh Garbage," into its 1969 tour sets.
Spirit and California's family waited until now to make the "Stairway" accusation because they previously weren't able to pay for lawyers, according to Rolling Stone. For decades, California didn't appear to complain publicly about "Stairway to Heaven." But he reportedly did tell "Listener" magazine in 1997 that he thought the song was "a ripoff."
California explained to "Listener": "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. Maybe someday their conscience will make them do something about it."
Even though the U.S. has a three-year statute of limitations on copyright infringement cases, this is usually interpreted as a limitation on royalties, the Guardian pointed out, and Spirit could seek royalties from recent sales of "Stairway to Heaven."
And those recent sales are likely to be enormous. Many experts have valued "Stairway to Heaven" to exceed $560 million (£330 million) -- and much higher than $10 million per year, the Guardian noted.
This isn't the first time Led Zeppelin has faced accusations of plagiarism. Such accusations arose over two brilliant songs from the first Led Zeppelin album ("Dazed and Confused" and "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You") and over a mighty blues-rock number from the second Zepp LP ("The Lemon Song"), but Zeppelin settled lawsuits out of court.