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Phila. lawyer planning suit over 'Stairway to Heaven' opening

Attorney working with trust for deceased guitarist Randy California

Did Led Zeppelin steal the opening to "Stairway to Heaven," one of the most popular rock songs of all time, from another band?

A Philadelphia area lawyer may soon be taking the group to court for a ruling on the matter.

Supporters of Randy California, the late guitarist for the group Spirit, have claimed for years that Led Zepplin lifted the tune's opening from the Spirit song "Taurus."

Philadelphia attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy, who has an office in Media, is working on the potential suit with Mark Andes, Spirit's founding bassist, and the trust that handles royalties for California, who died in 1997.

Malofiy told Bloomberg Businessweek that he intends to file a copyright-infringement lawsuit and seek an injunction against the upcoming rerelease of the Led Zeppelin album that contains the song (the group plans to release deluxe and other editions of its albums starting next month).

"The idea behind this is to make sure that Randy California is given a writing credit on "Stairway to Heaven,"' the attorney told Bloomberg Businessweek. "It's been a long time coming."

Reached this morning, Malofiy said he was pressed for time and could not immediately comment.

Andes told the news organization that he only recently noticed the similarities between "Taurus" and "Stairway."

"The clarity seems to be a present-day clarity, not at the time of infringement. I can't explain it. It is fairly blatant, and note for note," he said. "It would just be nice if the Led Zeppelin guys gave Randy a little nod. That would be lovely."

A guitar line in "Taurus" sounds similar to the opening of "Stairway," and Andes says he believes "Stairway" writer Jimmy Page and other members of Led Zeppelin heard the song when the group opened for Spirit in Denver in December 1968.

The two bands also played together several times the next year.

California did not make plagiarism allegations publicly for decades, but in 1997 called the song a "ripoff" to Listener magazine.

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, California, his family and Spirit also haven't had the resources for a legal challenge. But Malofiy has been representing Andes on other issues and says he is handling the case on contingency.

The three-year statute of limitations in copyright-infringement cases is often read as only limiting back loyalties to three years. "Stairway" is one of the most profitable songs in music history, so even royalties from only recent sales could yield considerable sums.

Malofiy is also representing a songwriter in a copyright lawsuit filed against Usher in federal court in Philadelphia over credit for the R&B singer's song "Bad Girl."