Robert Plant and Jimmy Page must face trial in a copyright row over Led Zeppelin’s song Stairway to Heaven, a Los Angeles court has ruled.
The LA district judge said there were enough similarities between the song and an instrumental by the band Spirit to let a jury decide.
The trial has been scheduled for May 10.
Stairway to Heaven, released in 1971, is widely seen as one of the greatest rock compositions of all time.
The copyright infringement action has been brought by Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin in the 1960s, and claims he should be given a writing credit on the track.
Guitarist Jimmy Page and lead singer Robert Plant are reputed to have written Stairway to Heaven in a remote cottage in Wales.
Michael Skidmore has suggested the song came about after the band heard Spirit perform the instrumental Taurus while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969.
Judge Gary Klausner said a jury could find “substantial” similarity between the first two minutes of Stairway and Taurus.
“While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,” Judge Gary Klausner ruled.
“What remains is a subjective assessment of the <<concept and feel>> of two works… a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.”
The judge also said the trustee can get only 50% of any damages awarded, citing a 1967 contract Randy Wolfe signed.
Led Zeppelin faces a legal dispute over the song Stairway to Heaven, widely seen as one of the greatest rock compositions of all time.
The copyright infringement action is being taken on behalf of late guitarist Randy California, who played on the same bill as Led Zeppelin in the 1960s.
Randy California’s lawyers say that he should be given a writing credit on the 1971 track.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the eight-minute song had earned $562 million as of 2008.
The magazine says that the song was so profitable in part because Led Zeppelin did not release it as a single, leaving fans with no option but to buy the entire album, which is untitled but known as Led Zeppelin IV.
The famous Stairway to Heaven opening guitar riff loosely resembles guitar work on Spirit’s instrumental Taurus
Both Led Zeppelin and Warner Music have said they will not comment on the allegations.
Media reports say that the court case is likely to be based on allegations that the famous Stairway to Heaven opening guitar riff loosely resembles guitar work on an instrumental called Taurus.
Taurus was written by Randy California’s Los Angeles-based psychedelic band, Spirit, in 1968.
The plaintiffs include Spirit’s founding bassist Mark Andes and a trust that manages royalties for Randy California, who died in 1997 trying to save his son from drowning.
Randy California is quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek as describing Stairway to Heaven as a “rip-off” shortly before he died.
“It is fairly blatant, and note for note,” Mark Andes told Bloomberg Businessweek.
“It would just be nice if the Led Zeppelin guys gave Randy a little nod. That would be lovely.”
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is reputed to have begun writing Stairway to Heaven in 1970 in a remote cottage in Wales.
Earlier this month the band unveiled two previously unheard recordings ahead of the re-issue in June of its first three albums.
Jimmy Page, now 70, meanwhile has scotched rumors of a reunion concert.
For a band that broke up in 1980, following the death of the drummer John Bonham, interest in Led Zeppelin remains intense.