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Is Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway To Heaven' A Rip Off?

That's the question before a Los Angeles court, as the trial commences in a plagiarism lawsuit against the British rockers.

The band is being sued by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of late guitarist and songwriter Randy Wolfe who claims Led Zeppelin swiped Stairway's iconic opening from 'Taurus,' a 1968 song by Wolfe's band Spirit.

Singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page attended the hearing in Los Angeles after being accused of "lifting" the introduction of their classic 1971 hit from a track by psychedelic American rock band Spirit.

A lawsuit has been filed by Michael Skidmore, the trustee of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe - known by the nickname Randy California - who died in 1997 having never taken legal action over the song.

Could this be the biggest rip-off ever? - You Be The Judge


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A jury is considering the case at the US District Court, where Plant, Page and their bandmate John Paul Jones are expected to give evidence.

Mr Skidmore's lawyer Francis Malofiy told the hearing: "This case can be summed up in six words - give credit where credit is due.

"The pink elephant in the room is 'Stairway To Heaven' is one of the most iconic rock songs. Led Zeppelin is one of the most iconic rock bands of all time.

"Our issue is where they picked up this piece of music."

Wolfe - who was nicknamed Randy California by his friend Jimi Hendrix - had written an instrumental track called 'Taurus' for the "love of his life" in the late 1960s, the court heard.

But the musical composition "fell into the hands of Jimmy Page", who used it for the introduction to 'Stairway To Heaven,' Mr Malofiy said.

The lawyer told the court both songs used the same three pairs of notes - A and B, B and C, and C and F sharp - and featured chords that "keep the listener wanting more".

Both pieces of music were played to the jury of four men and four women during the hearing.

Mr Malofiy said he was "not denying the magic" of Led Zeppelin but that 'Stairway To Heaven' "lifted a composition from a lesser known song".

"Jimmy Page and Robert Plant are incredible performers and incredible musicians but they cover other people's music they try to make their own," he said.

Led Zeppelin appreciated Spirit "on an intimate level" and played a cover of the "pioneering" US band's single Fresh Garbage 16 times at their concerts, Mr Malofiy said.

Led Zeppelin had also been the opening act for Spirit when the British band made their US debut in December 1968 in Denver, he said.

Despite initially claiming they did not know Spirit, Page later acknowledged he liked the band and Plant had been out socially with some members of the group, the court heard.

Page, 72, and Plant, 67, were dressed in suits during the hearing as they sat next to each in court.

Led Zeppelin's lawyer Peter Anderson said: "Forty-five years ago Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote some of the greatest songs in rock 'n' roll history. One song was 'Stairway To Heaven.' Now, nearly 50 years later, they are being sued over it.

"Stairway To Heaven was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and them alone. Period. Enough evidence remains to show history cannot be rewritten."

Janet Wolfe, sister of Randy Wolfe, told the court her brother was "upset" about Led Zeppelin's alleged use of his song.

"It was something that upset him for many, many years," she said. "I wanted him to do something about it."

The hearing was adjourned until Wednesday morning.

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page has called the claims "ridiculous."

But a judge ruled that the two songs sound similar enough that a jury should decide the lawsuit, which was filed in 2014.

At stake is a share of the royalties for 'Stairway to Heaven,' which topped $US562 million ($A763.64 million), according to a 2008 estimate by Conde Nast Portfolio.

Wolfe's estate lawyer, Francis Malofiy, said he would settle the suit for just $1 in back damages - if Led Zeppelin gives posthumous songwriting credit to Wolfe, who drowned while rescuing his son in 1997. That acknowledgement could still be worth millions of dollars in future rights.

Led Zeppelin have been accused of plagiarism before, and have settled out of court on claims they borrowed other musicians' work on their songs 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You,' 'Whole Lotta Love' and 'Dazed and Confused.'

Source: AAP/Image: Getty

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