Waiting on the ‘Fat Lady’; Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Verdict Appealed

Led Zeppelin via Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” copyright battle isn’t over quite yet. The attorney for the 60’s and 70’s rock band Spirit filed an appeal with a federal court to dispute an earlier verdict that was decided in June.  The verdict sided with Led Zeppelin in the copyright infringement case. On Wednesday a 90-page brief was filed at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

According to Rolling Stone, Francis Malofiy, the attorney representing Michael Skidmore, the trustee of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe’s estate, is arguing against what he is calling “erroneous” jury instructions. Malofiy feels these jury instructions are to blame for the unanimous verdict that sided with Led Zeppelin earlier.

At the core, the lawsuit accuses Led Zeppelin of copying both a descending minor guitar baseline chord and the phrasing found on Spirit’s instrumental track “Taurus,” which predates the 1971 release of the single “Stairway to Heaven.” In his appeal, Malofiy is arguing that the jury did not find the two songs to be “substantially similar” because he said they were not permitted to hear the version of “Taurus” that guitarist Jimmy Page allegedly stole from.

“The most important of these errors was that the trial court refused to let the jury hear the full and complete composition of ‘Taurus’ embodied in the sound recordings that Jimmy Page possessed, instead limiting the comparison to an outline of the ‘Taurus’ composition in the deposit copy lead sheet,” Malifoy wrote.

Attorneys representing Skidmore also accused the trial judge of making “a series of erroneous instructions on the scope of copyright protection,” The Hollywood Reporter notes.

According to Rolling Stone, other complaints concerning the initial trial include “Limiting Plaintiff’s Trial Time to 10 Hours Violated Due Process and was Not Even Close to An Adequate Amount of Time to Try this Case” as well as “The Court Seriously Erred when Defining Originality.”

Copyright infringement is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission to do so. According to Perdue University the legal penalties for copyright infringement are:

  1. Infringer pays the actual dollar amount of damages and profits.
  2. The law provides a range from $200 to $150,000 for each work infringed.
  3. Infringer pays for all attorneys fees and court costs.
  4. The Court can issue an injunction to stop the infringing acts.
  5. The Court can impound the illegal works.
  6. The infringer can go to jail.

Skidmore and his team are seeking reversal of the previous verdict and a retrial in their filing to the 9th circuit court.  What are your thoughts?  Listen and weigh in.


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