A U.S. appeals court on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, ordered a new trial in a lawsuit accusing Led Zeppelin of the copy of an obscure 1960’s instrumental for the intro to the classic 1971 rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven.”
Led Zeppelin, the legendary classic rock band, will be faced with a new trial in a lawsuit accusing the musicians of stealing the intro to their iconic anthem “Stairway to Heaven” after a U.S. appeals court ruled Friday that the jury had been given misleading instructions.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously ruled that the U. S. District Judge Gary R. Klausner gave the jury false information about the copyright law.
Singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page were vacated two years ago by a federal court in Los Angeles of an alleged copy of the riff from the song “Taurus” by the band Spirit, when it was found in the two songs were not substantially similar.
In this July 13, 1985 file photo, Led Zeppelin bandmates, singer Robert Plant, left, and guitarist Jimmy Page, reunite to perform for the Live Aid famine relief concert at the john f. kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.
But the court of appeal said Klausner failed to tell jurors that while the individual elements of a song, such as notes, or scale, may not be eligible for copyright protection, a combination of these elements, if sufficiently original.
Klausner also falsely told jurors that copyright does not protect chromatic scales, arpeggios, or a short series of three notes, the 9th Circuit panel found.
“This error was not harmless as the undercut testimony by Skidmore of the expert that Led Zeppelin is a copy of a chromatic scale, which were used in an original way,” 9th Circuit Judge Richard Paez said.
Another problem the judges faced was that they could not listen to the recorded version of “Bull”, as performed by the Spirit. Neither could they hear the “Trap” Rolling Stone reported.
The 9th Circuit said jurors should have been allowed to hear of the shooting to help determine that Page had “access” to “Bull”, meaning that he would be familiar with the program.
Page initially said he did not know Spirit, but later admitted admiring their music, and the possession of a number of the band’s albums.
Michael Skidmore, the trustee for the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, filed the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in 2015.
“This was a song that Randy California had written for the love of his life, Robin. That was her sign of Taurus,” said Skidmore’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy. “But everyone knows that it would fall in the hands of Jimmy Page, and the intro of the song ‘Stairway to Heaven.'”
Wolfe, who drowned in 1997 saving his son in Hawaii, wrote “Bull” in 1966 or 1967. “Stairway to Heaven” came out in 1971.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.