Eight California jurors yesterday decided not to rewrite rock n’ roll history, finding that Led Zeppelin did not copy a guitar riff from a band called Spirit nearly half a century ago. The dispute was over an instrumental portion of the iconic song “Stairway to Heaven,” which was composed by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and released in 1971.
The song’s 2012 re-release provided a basis for a much-delayed copyright violation claim by the representative of a deceased musician who said the Led Zep guitar riff copies his earlier song, “Taurus.” Although Led Zeppelin has previously settled copyright violation claims, this case was different. To some extent, the band’s future significance, its place in rock n’ roll history, depended on defeating this claim. “Stairway to Heaven” is their best-known song.
Certainly both Page and Plant — Led Zeppelin’s former guitarist and its frontman — sounded relieved and pleased by the jury’s verdict. After such a long and winding road … or stairway … for the song in question, they kept their statement to the public brief.
Following the verdict they thanked the jurors for their service and expressed pleasure over the conclusion. Both were in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. they had also attended the proceedings, hearing musicologists and other experts testify about the likelihood of the band having lifted Spirit’s guitar riff.
“We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” they said in a statement publicized by The Hollywood Reporter. “We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
The Wolfe Estate has made some mention of appealing the ruling, but intellectual property lawyers who spoke to The Hollywood Reporter advised against it, saying it would be an uphill … or rather, upstairs … battle.
They pointed out that overturning a jury verdict is extremely difficult, and that the basis for an appeal here would be very weak. The plaintiff’s attorney says he lost on a technicality and that the verdict might have been different if the jury was allowed to hear the actual Spirit song “Taurus” rather than an expert performance of the sheet music registered with the US Copyright Office.
But that is what was registered for the disputed song, so that argument probably won’t work. Litigator Robert Jacobs explained, “The law is well settled that you’re stuck with what the Copyright Office got. That’s just the way it is.”
Music litigator William Hochberg told reporters that an appeal would be a waste of time and money. For the lawyer handling the matter, he said, it would be like stepping on “a stairway to hell,” of course.
- 3 Things to Know About the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Lawsuit (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- What Is a Copyright? (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- Copyright Ownership (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)
- Copyright Registration (FindLaw’s Learn About the Law)