Jun 24, 2016

Stairway All The Way To Heaven For Led Zeppelin

We have previously reported here on the copyright infringement trial in Los Angeles concerning the legendary rock group Led Zeppelin and their hit song 'Stairway to Heaven'. The jury has now reached its decision and has decided that Led Zeppelin are not guilty of copyright infringement.

The case centred on a song from 1967 called 'Taurus' by a band called Spirit. This song is a 2 minute 37 second long instrumental piece which features a distinct plucked guitar line. The song was released in January 1968 approximately 3 years prior to Stairway to Heaven. Led Zeppelin were accused of stealing the opening notes of Stairway to Heaven from the guitar section of Taurus.

The action was brought by the estate of Randy Wolfe, the former guitarist for Spirit. It was alleged that Led Zeppelin became familiar with Taurus after the two bands played on the same bill at a club in Birmingham in 1970. The former bassist for Spirit even testified that he met Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin at this show and played snooker with him afterwards.

Robert Plant testified that he could not remember that night saying that in all the 'hubbub and chaos' which undoubtedly surrounds a famous rock star he could not recall a single night from 40 years ago. He also says that his memory of that night is hazy following a car accident he was involved in on his way home. The lawyers for Led Zeppelin argued that the chord progression in question was very common and had been in use for more than 300 years.

After hearing all of the evidence the jury in Los Angeles found that the opening chords of Stairway to Heaven were not intrinsically similar to Taurus and hence no copyright infringement had occurred. This decision follows similar cases involving Madonna in the USA (here) and Kraftwerk in Germany (here). Though these cases involved the sampling of music this does suggest a trend that it has become harder for rights holders to enforce their rights in these situations. A similar case is currently proceeding in Los Angeles concerning Ed Sheeran and it will be interesting to see how that develops in light of this decision.

If this case has raised any issues for you please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel and Co. on 0191 281 4000 or by email to legal@mcdanielslaw.com.

in: Copyright, News

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