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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Appeals court vacates jury decision in copyright suit against Led Zeppelin over 'Stairway To Heaven'


By Takesha Thomas | Oct 10, 2018

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SAN FRANCISCO – Attorneys for Led Zeppelin are heading back to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to defend the band in copyright lawsuit over the song "Stairway to Heaven" after an appeals court ruled that the district court erred in jury instructions in the case. 

In its Sept. 28 decision, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated the lower court ruling over what was described as "deficiencies in the jury instructions" in the original trial. The appeals court also vacated an order denying attorneys' fees and costs.

Michael Skidmore, trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, sued Led Zeppelin over what they claim was copyright infringement, alleging that the band copied Wolfe's song, "Taurus," when it composed and wrote "Stairway to Heaven." The late Randy Wolfe was a member of the band Spirit when he wrote "Taurus." An NBC news story said the trust brought the copyright infringement lawsuit, and in 2016, a jury found that the two songs were not substantially similar.

According to court documents, Wolfe "wrote the song 'Taurus' in late 1966. Spirit signed a recording contract in August 1967, and its first album, which included 'Taurus,' was released in late 1967 or early 1968."  The band along with Led Zeppelin often crossed paths while out touring "several times in the late 1960s and early 1970s," court documents state. Led Zeppelin released the song "Stairway to Heaven" in 1971 on the album known as “Led Zeppelin IV." The song's credited to have been written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

In the trial, the jury found that Skidmore owned the copyright to “Taurus,” that defendants Led Zeppelin had access to “Taurus,” but that the two songs were not substantially similar under the extrinsic test," court documents state. 

The appellate court in vacating the lower court's decision said," (We) remand for a new trial against defendants because of the deficiencies in the jury instructions on originality and the district court’s failure to include a selection and arrangement jury instruction." In the opinion, the court also found that the "district court abused its discretion by not allowing the sound recordings of 'Taurus' to be played to prove access."

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