led zepplin trial, court building.jpg
The exterior of the Roybal Federal Building where the copyright infringement trial was taking place between Led Zeppelin band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and the estate Randy California over the song 'Stairway to Heaven' in Los Angeles, California, USA, 15 June 2016. The estate of Randy California claims that the song was taken from a song by the 1968 Los Angeles band Spirit.
Photograph: EPA/MIKE NELSON

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and frontman Robert Plant thanked a Los Angeles jury Thursday for ruling they did not steal the opening to their rock classic Stairway to Heaven.

"We are grateful for the jury's conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favour, putting to rest questions about the origins of Stairway to Heaven and confirming what we have known for 45 years," they said in a statement published by US media.

"We appreciate our fans' support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us."

The jury in federal district court in Los Angeles deliberated for less than a day over accusations that the British rockers lifted part of Stairway to Heaven, released in 1971, from Taurus, an earlier tune by US rock band Spirit.

With little apparent debate, they found that while Page and Plant had "access" to Taurus - meaning they may have known the song - there was no substantial similarity between the two compositions, according to the jury verdict.

Plant and Page testified in court that they wrote Stairway to Heaven alone and that the musical elements it shared with Taurus were common building blocks used in Western music for centuries.

The verdict is a bitter defeat for the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, which alleged that Led Zeppelin heard Spirit's song Taurus when the two promising bands knew each other in the late 1960s, then copied it and made it famous.

Attorney Francis Malofiy told media in the courtroom that Led Zeppelin had won on a "technicality" and blamed Judge R Gary Klausner's decision to bar official sound recordings of the two songs for the defeat.

"We proved they had access to the music, but the jury never heard the music," he said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

US copyright law before 1976 protects sheet music, not sound recordings. Some observers have noted that sound recordings of the two songs show more apparent similarities than the sheet music versions admitted at trial.

But Klausner banned the recordings on the grounds they could "confuse" the jury.

Malofiy was barred from making reference to Led Zeppelin's history of lifting music and lyrics from other musicians.

Confronted with legal actions, the band has over decades changed songwriting credit on several of its best-known songs including Whole Lotta Love, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and Dazed and Confused.

Wolfe's estate had wanted Plant and Page to give Wolfe songwriting credit on Stairway to Heaven, and with it a share of future royalties. The verdict means Stairway to Heaven and the millions it has earned remain in the hands of Led Zeppelin.

Claims of copying are not uncommon in pop music, where inspiration, sampling and outright theft coexist in shades of gray.

In addition to Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Coldplay and Rod Stewart are among those who have settled claims of plagiarism over hit songs.

Few such lawsuits reach a jury, and some of the most famous of those cases have not ended well for big-name performers.

The late Beatle George Harrison had to pay nearly 1.6 million dollars after a jury found he had unintentionally plagiarized The Chiffons' He's So Fine in his 1971 solo song My Sweet Lord.

Last year, a jury ordered Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke to pay heirs of soul singer Marvin Gaye 7.3 million dollars for borrowing from Gaye's 1977 song Got to Give It Up in their 2013 hit Blurred Lines. The award was reduced by a judge to 5.3 million dollars; Williams and Thicke have appealed the decision.

Led Zeppelin's case was the latest of these cases, but not the last - earlier this month, two California songwriters sued British pop star Ed Sheeran for 20 million dollars over his song Photograph.

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