Zeppelin Must Face New ‘Stairway’ Copyright Trial: 9th Circ.

By Bill Donahue

Law360 (September 28, 2018, 2:56 PM EDT) — The Ninth Circuit on Friday ordered a new trial in a high-profile copyright lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin of stealing the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” from an obscure song, ruling a trial judge “undermined” the accusations.

Overturning a 2016 verdict in favor of the band, a three-judge panel ruled that the judge’s instructions misled jurors in a number of ways, potentially tainting their finding that “Stairway” did not infringe a 1967 instrumental ballad called “Taurus” by the band Spirit.

Among other things, the appeals court said the judge failed to inform jurors that unprotectable elements can nonetheless still be protected by copyright law when arranged in creative ways.
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Michael Skidmore, the trustee for late Taurus frontman Randy California, sued Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and Warner/Chappell Music in 2014, claiming the two bands had toured together, giving Zeppelin a chance to hear the song.
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The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin et al., case number 16-56057, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Song Remains the Same for Zeppelin on Stairway to Heaven . . .

Unprotectable elements, like individual musical notes, can otherwise still be protected under the Copyright Act when arranged in creative ways, so long as the resulting arrangement meets criteria for protection (i.e., (1) a work of authorship; (2) must be original; (3) must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression).  Another important take-away being that Zeppelin and Spirit simply playing a few shows together gave Plant and Page adequate access to musical arrangement of Taurus.