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 drowned in 1997 having never taken legal action over the song.
The copyright infringement trial is taking place before a jury 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 – wrote 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 chord progressions that “keep the listener wanting more”.
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.
Page, 72, and Plant, 67, were dressed in suits during the hearing and sat next to each in court.
Their lawyer Peter Anderson said: “Stairway To Heaven was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and them alone. Period.”