Appeals Court Sides With LED ZEPPELIN In ‚Stairway To Heaven‘ Copyright Case

An appeals court has upheld a jury verdict finding that LED ZEPPELIN’s classic song „Stairway To Heaven“ was not a rip-off of SPIRIT’s „Taurus“. Michael Skidmore, the trustee of „Taurus“ songwriter Randy „California“ Wolfe’s estate, had brought the claims more than four decades after „Stairway To Heaven“ appeared on LED ZEPPELIN’s untitled album, better known as „Led Zeppelin IV“. In June 2016, a Los Angeles jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding unanimously in favor of LED ZEPPELIN. However, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2018 the trial judge had made a series of errors and ordered a new hearing. Now, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the 2016 trial verdict that found LED ZEPPELIN did not copy „Taurus“. The entire 73-page court document can be found at this location. Four years ago, LED ZEPPELIN singer Robert Plant testified in court that he had no recollection of ever hearing „Taurus“ before. „I didn’t remember it then, and I don’t remember it now,“ he said. LED ZEPPELIN guitarist Jimmy Page also testified that he had not copied any part of „Taurus“ even though he owned five discs by SPIRIT among his collection of 4,000 vinyl records. Enrico Bonadio, a senior lecturer in law from City University London, told Newsweek in April 2016: „I don’t think that it is appropriate to consider the act of devising a tune that simply has the same ‚feel‘ and ‚groove‘ as another as copyright infringement. This is how music creativity often works. Musicians frequently build upon earlier arrangements and styles, and so the increasing occurrence of cases such as these should give us pause.“ After the 2016 trial, plaintiff’s attorney Francis Malofiy claimed he lost his case on a technicality, insisting that it was unfair the jury was unable to listen to the sound recording of „Taurus“ and instead was limited to hearing an expert performance of the registered sheet music. Malofiy received over a hundred sustained objections and „multiple admonishments“ during the ZEPPELIN trial, with the band’s publishing company Warner/Chappell Music filing documents asking the judge to order the plaintiffs to pay over $613,000 in costs for defending against the lawsuit.

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