The U.S. Department of Justice has sided with Led Zeppelin in a long-running copyright feud surrounding their iconic hit ‘Stairway To Heaven’.
But Randy California had more right than most to take on the mantle of the guitar genius. California drowned the 2nd january 1997 in the Pacific Ocean. Many guitarists have existed in the shadow of the great Jimi Hendrix.
The British rock giants initially triumphed back in 2016 when a Los Angeles jury ruled that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ did not infringe on ‘Taurus’, an instrumental track first penned by late Spirit guitarist Randy California for the band’s 1968 debut album.
The case was reopened when a San Francisco court subsequently ruled that an earlier trial should have heard the two songs, instead of having a jury making their ruling based on the musical score or sheet music which showed chords and scale.(NME)
In the newly filed brief, the Justice Department says that the initial trial judge was correct when he ruled that only the song’s sheet music was subject to copyright protection, as the song itself was written before a 1972 law which protected sound recordings.
They added that the contentious sections of the song are only worthy of protection if they sound identical, under which reasoning Led Zeppelin would emerge triumphant once more.
Earlier this month, the case received another high profile intervention when members of Korn, Tool, Judas Priest, Linkin Park and several other band signed a brief in support of Led Zep.
The ‘Stairway To Heaven’ case will be re-heard the week of September 23 in San Francisco.
California drowned in the Pacific Ocean in 1997 at the age of 45 while rescuing his 12-year-old son Quinn from a rip current at Molokai, Hawaii. He managed to push Quinn (who survived) toward the shore.
The Randy Craig Wolfe Trust was established after his death and, using royalties from California’s recording contracts, financially supports the Randy California Project, an after-school music education program for underprivileged elementary school children in Ventura County.
In 1966, when only 15, the precocious Californian Randy Wolfe met Hendrix in a New York music store. They got talking, played some slide and soon Hendrix was adding the nickname “California” to Randy’s name and asking him to sit in with his band, Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, at the Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village.
Jimmy Page may have reworked California’s guitar riff from “Taurus“, an instrumental song from the first Spirit album, when he wrote Led Zeppelin‘s “Stairway to Heaven“. Led Zeppelin was on the same bill as Spirit on two American music festival dates in 1969. In 1996, in the liner notes for the reissue of Spirit’s first album,
California stated “people always ask me why ‘Stairway to Heaven’ sounds exactly like ‘Taurus,’ which was released two years earlier. I know Led Zeppelin also played ‘Fresh Garbage’ in their live set. They opened up for us on their first American tour”. The fact that “Fresh Garbage” was a track from the same album that includes the song “Taurus” further fueled the belief that Led Zeppelin was at least aware of the song In 2014, a copyright infringement and injunction lawsuit against the reissue of Led Zeppelin IV started with the lawyer saying, “The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on Stairway to Heaven.
In June 2016, after a trial that included audio recordings of several versions of both songs but not the Spirit and Led Zeppelin recordings, and also featured testimony from Page and band mate Robert Plant explaining the songwriting process for “Stairway,” a jury ruled that Page and Plant had not copied “Taurus.”