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Led Zeppelin faces copyright case for ‘Stairway to Heaven’

This week in Los Angeles federal court, a jury began hearing evidence and testimony on whether rock band Led Zeppelin may have lifted part of their iconic song, “Stairway to Heaven.” At stake is the band’s reputation and millions of dollars. NewsHour Weekend’s Phil Hirschkorn reports.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    In surveys of the greatest rock 'n roll songs of all time, Led Zeppelin's 1971 recording of "Stairway to Heaven" is usually near the top.

    But this week, in Los Angeles federal court, a jury began hearing evidence and testimony about whether the band may have lifted part of the song from a more obscure group. The Newshour's Phil Hirschkorn has more.

  • PHIL HIRSCHKORN:

    The opening, acoustic guitar chords to "Stairway to Heaven" are instantly recognizable to classic rock fans.

    Representatives of the band "Spirit" allege the genesis of that passage is this instrumental, called "Taurus," released three years earlier.

    At stake in the trial is the reputation of one of rock's seminal bands…and millions of dollars.

    The estate of spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe, who died in 1997, is seeking songwriting credit and royalties.

    The plaintiffs say Led Zeppelin may have heard "Taurus" when they played at the same concerts with spirit in the late 1960s.

    But Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page testified though he owned spirit albums, he never heard the song until two years ago, when the suit was filed.

    FRANCIS ALEXANDER MALOFIY, Attorney for plaintiffs: Well look, it is frustrating.

  • PHIL HIRSCHKORN:

    The jury is not expected to hear either band's actual recordings of the songs but only a musician playing copyrighted sheet music.

  • ROBERT PLANT:

    I used to be better looking than this…

  • PHIL HIRSCHKORN:

    Led Zeppelin has been accused before of copyright infringement for other big hits like "Dazed and Confused" and "Whole Lotta Love," settling those cases by sharing songwriting credit and paying royalties.

    With continued radio play, streaming, and sales, a plaintiff's expert testified royalties from "Stairway to Heaven" in the past three years alone were 60 million dollars.

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