Led Zeppelin wins 'Stairway to Heaven' copyright dispute

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  4 weeks ago  •  18 comments

By:   Gwen Aviles

Led Zeppelin wins 'Stairway to Heaven' copyright dispute
The copyright battle dates to 2014, when the estate of Spirit frontman Randy Wolfe sued Led Zeppelin.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

Led Zeppelin prevailed in a long-running copyright dispute after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict saying the rock band's 1971 megahit "Stairway to Heaven" did not illegally borrow from Spirit's 1968 track "Taurus."

"The trial and appeal process has been a long climb up the 'Stairway to Heaven,'" read the judges' opinion, which was filed Monday and affirmed "that Led Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' did not infringe Spirit's 'Taurus.'"

The copyright battle dates to 2014, when the estate of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe sued Led Zeppelin, alleging copyright infringement. Wolfe, whose stage name was Randy California, died in 1997.

A jury ruled against the estate two years later, after which attorneys for the estate sought a new trial. In 2018, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court   ruled in favor of the estate . In response, Led Zeppelin's attorneys sought a rehearing before the full 9th Circuit, which heard the case in September.

The court's decision may establish new standards in the music industry, which, coinciding with the rise of streaming platforms, has been plagued by a flurry of copyright lawsuits in recent years. In issuing its ruling, the court overturned the "inverse ratio rule," which stated that the more access an alleged infringer has to a plaintiff's work, the less similarity between the works was needed to establish infringement.

"The flaws in the rule can be seen in the inconsistent ways in which we have applied the rule within our circuit," reads the opinion. "Nothing in copyright law suggests that a work deserves stronger legal protection simply because it is more popular or owned by better-funded rights holders."

The judges also added that they would not extend copyright protection to just a few notes, proclaiming that "a four-note sequence common in the music field is not the copyrightable expression in a song."

The ruling marks a direct contrast to the 9th Circuit Court' 2015 verdict that concluded that Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams' 2013 song "Blurred Lines" infringed on Marvin Gaye's 1977 hit "Got to Give It Up."


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1  Tacos!    4 weeks ago

Amazing how long this has gone on. Lawyers are gettin' paid, that's for sure!

The ruling marks a direct contrast to

You really can't compare or contrast any of these cases. Each one is an individual case. There's no standard and there's no way to invent one. Music is just too complicated for that. This is why it's nice to see this:

In issuing its ruling, the court overturned the "inverse ratio rule,"

Cuz that rule is dumb.

Also nice to see a dose of common sense:

The judges also added that they would not extend copyright protection to just a few notes, proclaiming that "a four-note sequence common in the music field is not the copyrightable expression in a song."

That would have been a disaster for the music industry.

1.1  Ender  replied to  Tacos! @1    4 weeks ago

Agree. Most music has a similar beat.

With all the songs out there now, one could find similarities with most of them.

Only so many notes can be played.

Perrie Halpern R.A.
1.2  seeder  Perrie Halpern R.A.  replied to  Tacos! @1    4 weeks ago

I so totally agree with this judgment. A song should be judged in it total and not in just a few notes that kind of reminds you of another song. 

Btw, Clapton's "Let it grow" also has the same chord progression. He is friends and bandmates with Page, from the Yardbirds and notice, Page didn't lose it on him. 

2  CB     4 weeks ago

Congratulations to the band! I really did not want this classic disturbed in any significant way.

Buzz of the Orient
3  Buzz of the Orient    4 weeks ago

Loved that song.

4  JohnRussell    4 weeks ago

This has gone on so long I dont think anyone cares anymore. 

Personally, I think the song by Spirit, in that one small part, is too similar to Stairway To Heaven to be a coincidence.  However, I don't think there should have been a lawsuit because the "borrowed" part is very short, and hardly represents the entirety of Stairway To Heaven. 

4.1  MUVA  replied to  JohnRussell @4    4 weeks ago

They toured with Led Zeppelin I think it was ripped off but it has been so long like you said.

5  WallyW    4 weeks ago

I like this version by Heart.  jrSmiley_93_smiley_image.jpg

Sparty On
5.1  Sparty On  replied to  WallyW @5    4 weeks ago

Looks like they liked it as well.

The Wilson sisters rock!

5.2  CB   replied to  WallyW @5    4 weeks ago

I got chills. I have not heard this rendition before today. What an honor! What a song! What an experience! I was hanging onto every note and utter. It did my soul good to see these men honored. Heart ! You always rock!

(By President Obama - no less!  s-l300.jpg )

6  Kathleen    4 weeks ago

Always a favorite of mine.

7  WallyW    4 weeks ago

From a youth orchestra in Slovenia

7.1  CB   replied to  WallyW @7    4 weeks ago

What a celebration of this truly passionate song. I am glad you pointed out the "youth" of these musicians, because the tempo was constant throughout and in this one regard you could study each music bar. (Slo' as molasses. -Okay enough critique.)  The opening and closing done here, drives home the sheer passion in the music bars, Taurus used in a descending scale and Led Zeppelin used in an ascending scale. The similarities are, .  . . exceptional even if brief and 'sprayed' about in Taurus.

Kudos to Led Zeppelin for their entire body of works.

8  Sunshine    4 weeks ago

Lot of things happened during that song in the seventies.  Not saying what, just saying a lot of things.jrSmiley_4_smiley_image.png

9  lib50    4 weeks ago

Now all is right with the world.  At least musically.

Steve Ott
10  Steve Ott    4 weeks ago

Both songs start with an Am progression, but their the similarity ends. I have had both albums for, oh lets just say a long time.Spirit was a great band, just never caught on because they didn't have a single identity. They were jazz-rock fusion, psychedelic rock, regular rock. Very talented.

10.1  CB   replied to  Steve Ott @10    4 weeks ago

It does not help Skidmore's argument that the originator, nor his family after his death decades later, did not bring this lawsuit!

11  CB     4 weeks ago

[Page 53]


This copyright case was carefully considered by the district court and the jury. Because the 1909 Copyright Act did not offer protection for sound recordings, Skidmore’s one -page deposit copy defined the scope of the copyright at issue. In line with this holding, the district court did not err in limiting the substantial similarity analysis to the deposit copy or the scope of the testimony on acces s to Taurus . As it turns out, Skidmore’s complaint on access is moot because the jury found that Led Zeppelin had access to the song. We affirm the district court’s challenged jury instructions. We take the opportunity to reject the inverse ratio rule, under which we have permitted a lower standard of proof of substantial similarity where there is a high degree of access. This formulation is at odds with the copyright statute and we overrule our cases to the contrary. Thus the district court did not er r in declining to give an inverse ratio instruction. Nor did the district court err in its formulation of the originality instructions, or in excluding a selection and arrangement instruction. Viewing the jury instructions as a whole, there was no error with respect to the instructions. Finally, we affirm the district court with respect to the remaining trial issues and its denial of attorneys’ fees and costs to Warner/Chappell.


[Page] 54

The trial and appeal process has been a long climb up the Stairway to Heaven . The parties and their counsel have acquitted themselves well in presenting complicated questions of copyright law. We affirm the judgment that Led Zeppelin’s.

Source: https://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2020/03/09/16-56057.pdf

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