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Music History Events: Songs At Trials

June 23, 2016 After a trial in which the three living members of Led Zeppelin testified, a jury rules that they are not guilty of plagiarizing the intro of "Stairway To Heaven" from the 1968 song "Taurus" by the band Spirit. In 2018, the case is sent back to trial on a technicality, but is upheld in a 2020 ruling.

June 15, 2016 Jimmy Page takes the stand in a trial where he is accused of stealing part of the song "Taurus" for the intro to "Stairway To Heaven." Led Zeppelin played on the same bills with the band Spirit, who performed "Taurus" in their sets, but Page says he never heard that song before writing "Stairway." The jury rules in favor of Led Zeppelin.

June 18, 2009 Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old woman from Minnesota, is found guilty of illegal sharing of music files via the Internet and is ordered to pay $1.92 million, $80,000 per song.More

April 25, 1994 A jury rules that Michael Bolton's 1991 hit "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" plagiarizes The Isley Brothers 1966 song of the same name and awards $5.4 million in damages, the largest ever in a music plagiarism case.More

October 24, 1988 John Fogerty's trial begins. He is accused of plagiarizing himself by using elements of his Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Run Through The Jungle" for his 1985 solo hit "The Old Man Down The Road." The suit is brought by his nemesis and former label boss Saul Zaentz, who owns the publishing on "Jungle." Fogerty wins the case.

January 19, 1971 The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" is played at Charles Manson's murder trial as evidence. Manson claimed the song was about an impending race war, and led to murderous acts.

December 1, 2014 Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts quotes lyrics from Eminem's song "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" in making the case that a man threatening his estranged wife by writing violent rap lyrics and posting them on Facebook was protected by free speech. Roberts, who mentions lines like "Dada make a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake," points out that Eminem made these kind of threats very often, and he and others should be allowed to do so if it is presented as art.

May 27, 2014 At his trial for historic sexual offenses, Rolf Harris sings a few bars of his hit "Jake The Peg." He's also known for the 1969 chart-topper "Two Little Boys."

January 19, 2010 At the trial of Matt Baker, a Texas man accused of killing his wife in 2006, his former mistress Vanessa Bulls testifies against him, claiming he sent her an email with these lyrics from the The All-American Rejects song "Dirty Little Secret": I'll keep you my dirty little secret Don't tell anyone or you'll be just a little regret Baker is convicted of murder.

March 20, 2006 The song "Thank You For Being A Friend" is played at Leeds Crown Court when John Humble pleads guilty to perpetrating the Wearside Jack hoax (he pretended to be the Yorkshire Ripper serial killer).

August 17, 2002 Hours before his wife is murdered, Jacksonville resident Justin Barber downloads the Guns N' Roses song "Used To Love Her." The song is later played at the trial as evidence, with the lyrics displayed for the jury ("I used to love her, but I had to kill her..."). Barber is convicted of first degree murder and given a life sentence.

October 8, 1991 The U2 song "Exit" is played at the trial of Robert Bardo, who claims the song compelled him to kill the actress Rebecca Schaeffer.More

July 16, 1990 Trial begins for Judas Priest after they are accused of implanting subliminal messages in their song "Better By You, Better Than Me." The suit alleges that the messages caused two teenage boys to enter a suicide pact (one of the boys killed himself instantly; the other died three years later from complications related to the suicide attempt). The case is dismissed August 24 after the judge determines that the supposed subliminal message is just an accidental recording oddity.

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