On September 28, 2018, the Ninth Circuit ordered a new trial in a copyright lawsuit that accused Led Zeppelin of stealing the intro to their hit song “Stairway to Heaven,” from a 1967 instrumental ballad called “Taurus” by the band Spirit.
A three-judge panel overturned a 2016 verdict in favor of Led Zeppelin deciding the trial judge’s instructions misled jurors and potentially “tainted the case.” The appeals court found that the judge failed to inform jurors that unprotectable elements can nonetheless still be protected by copyright law when arranged in creative ways.
U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Paez wrote for the panel,
“The judge failed entirely to instruct jurors that a creative “selection and arrangement” can allow copyright law to protect otherwise unprotectable elements… Two other instructions, dealing with how the judge instructed jurors on the “originality” of Taurus’ song, were flawed in how they were worded… These instructions were prejudicial as they undermined the heart of [the accuser]’s argument that ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ were extrinsically substantially similar.”
This decision by the three-judge panel vacates the earlier verdict in favor of Zeppelin and remands the case back to district court for a new trial.
Skidmore is represented by Francis A. Malofiy of Francis Alexander LLC and Glen L. Kulik of Kulik Gottesman & Siegel LLP.
The band and its labels are represented by Peter J. Anderson of the Law Offices of Peter J. Anderson and Helene Freeman of Philips Nizer LLP.
The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin et al., case number 16-56057, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
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