Justice Department Sides With LED ZEPPELIN In 'Stairway To Heaven' Copyright Case
August 16, 2019
According to NBC News, the Justice Department filed a friend of court brief late Thursday supporting LED ZEPPELIN in the "Stairway To Heaven" copyright lawsuit.
Last September, a federal appeals court decided unanimously to overturn a jury's decision that LED ZEPPELIN's 1971 classic was not a rip-off of SPIRIT's song.
Michael Skidmore, the trustee of "Taurus" songwriter Randy "California" Wolfe's estate, had brought the claims more than four decades after "Stairway To Heaven" appeared on LED ZEPPELIN's untitled album, better known as "Led Zeppelin IV".
In its brief filed Thursday, the Justice Department said the trial judge got it right when he ruled that the only work subject to copyright protection was the sheet music, because the song was written before Congress changed the law in 1972, which gave protection to sound recordings.
In June 2016, a Los Angeles jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding unanimously in favor of LED ZEPPELIN.
The verdict in the LED ZEPPELIN case came down within 15 minutes of the jury's request to re-listen to both SPIRIT's "Taurus" and "Stairway To Heaven". They wanted to hear a section of each song twice, alternating from one to the other. They decided that what they heard wasn't substantially similar enough to call it copyright infringement.
Skidmore appealed, and in September, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided a new trial was needed because the judge who presided over a 2016 trial had given erroneous and prejudicial instructions to the jury.
The court said the judge erred by telling the jury that common musical elements, such as "descending chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes," were not protected by copyright. The court also said the jury should have been permitted to hear the album recording of "Taurus".
Plaintiff's attorney Francis Malofiy later claimed he lost his case on a technicality, insisting that it was unfair the jury was unable to listen to the sound recording of "Taurus" and instead was limited to hearing an expert performance of the registered sheet music.
Malofiy received over a hundred sustained objections and "multiple admonishments" during the ZEPPELIN trial, with the band's publishing company Warner/Chappell Music filing documents asking the judge to order the plaintiffs to pay over $613,000 in costs for defending against the lawsuit.
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