‘Stairway to Heaven’ copyright infringement case now in appeals

| Mar 29, 2017 | Copyright Law

The battle rages on over copyright infringement and the famous Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven.” The case has now been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Last April, the original lawsuit was filed in California federal district court by the estate of Randy Wolfe, guitarist for the 1960s rock band Spirit. The suit alleged that former Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant stole the opening riff from their iconic song from a Spirit song called “Taurus.” The federal jury ruled in favor of the defendants, stating the songs were not similar enough to constitute copyright infringement. 

In the appellate brief, filed by trustee Michael Skidmore and attorney Francis Malofiy, the plaintiffs claim that errors made by the federal court led to the jury’s ruling that Zeppelin did not infringe on Spirit’s copyright. Most notably, the brief states that:

“The most important of these errors was that the trial court refused to let the jury hear the full and complete composition of ‘Taurus’ embodied in the sound recordings that Jimmy Page possessed, instead limiting the comparison to an outline of the’Taurus’ composition in the deposit copy lead sheet.”

In addition to presenting the wrong version of the Spirit’s song, the plaintiffs also allege several other errors occurred in the federal jury trial. This includes the court’s failure to inform the jury that combinations or arrangements of musical elements can be copyright-protected and violating the plaintiff’s due process rights by limiting its case presentation to 10 hours. The plaintiff’s are requesting a reversal of the federal jury ruling and a new jury trial.

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