LED ZEPPELIN Granted New Hearing In "Stairway To Heaven" Copyright Lawsuit
June 10, 2019, 4 years ago
Led Zeppelin will get another chance to protect “Stairway To Heaven” from copyright suits, reports Bob Egelko of The San Fransciso Chronicle.
A federal appeals court agreed Monday, June 10th, to give the defunct rock band a new hearing to defend a jury’s favorable verdict in a suit that claimed the opening lines of the 1972 hit had been plagiarized from a 1968 song by the California band Spirit.
A 2014 lawsuit alleged that “Stairway To Heaven” songwriters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had heard “Taurus” at concerts or on recordings and lifted part of it for the Led Zeppelin song. The suit was filed by the estate of Spirit band member and songwriter Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, who died in 1997. The estate’s lawyer says any damages in the case would go to a trust fund to buy musical instruments for schoolchildren.
At the trial in 2016, a federal court jury in Los Angeles heard conflicting testimony from musicology experts about whether the passages were similar enough for a copyright violation, and also heard a guitarist play excerpts from the two scores. Jurors then found unanimously that Led Zeppelin had not violated Spirit’s copyright.
Last September, however, a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered a new trial. The court said U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner had wrongly instructed the jury to disregard any similarities between standard musical elements in the two songs, like a rising scale or a chord progression, because they are too common to be copyrighted.
Standard musical elements, when considered together, can be protected from unauthorized duplication when they have undergone changes or “selection and arrangement that may have rendered them original,” Judge Richard Paez said in the 3-0 ruling. He also said Klausner should have allowed a recording of “Taurus” to be played while Page, one of the “Stairway To Heaven” composers, was on the witness stand, which might have helped jurors assess his previous exposure to the song.
But on Monday the full appeals court said a majority of its judges had voted to set the ruling aside and hold a new hearing before an 11-judge panel. The hearing will take place in San Francisco the last week in September.
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