Led Zeppelin Has to Defend 'Stairway to Heaven' Again

Appeals court orders new trial into allegations the band ripped it off
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 29, 2018 7:25 AM CDT
Led Zeppelin Has to Defend 'Stairway to Heaven' Again
In this 1985 photo, Led Zeppelin bandmates Robert Plant, left, and guitarist Jimmy Page, reunite to perform for the Live Aid famine relief concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

A US appeals court on Friday ordered a new trial in a lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin of copying an obscure 1960s instrumental for the intro to its classic 1971 rock anthem "Stairway to Heaven," per the AP. A federal court jury in Los Angeles two years ago found Led Zeppelin did not steal the famous riff from the song "Taurus" by the band Spirit. But a three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled unanimously that the lower court judge provided erroneous jury instructions that misled jurors about copyright law central to the suit. It sent the case back to the court for another trial. Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, filed the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 2015.

Jurors returned their verdict for Led Zeppelin after a five-day trial at which band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant testified. Page says he wrote the music and Plant has claimed the lyrics, saying "Stairway" was an original. The jury found "Stairway to Heaven" and "Taurus" were not substantially similar, according to the 9th Circuit ruling. But it also said US District Judge R. Gary Klausner failed to advise jurors that while individual elements of a song such as its notes or scale may not qualify for copyright protection, a combination of those elements may if it is sufficiently original. One of the issues that came up at trial was that jurors could only listen to experts' renditions of the sheet music for "Taurus," not the recorded version of the song. They'll listen to it at the new trial.

(More Stairway to Heaven stories.)

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