FILE - 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 JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. From left are John Bonham, Robert Plant, Denny and Jimmy Page. A federal appeals court on Monday, March 9, 2020, restored a jury verdict that found Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven.” (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

Zeppelin wins latest battle of the bands in ‘Stairway’ fight

Court handed win to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, dealt blow to estate of Randy Wolfe

A federal appeals court on Monday restored a jury verdict that found Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco handed the major win to guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant and dealt a blow to the estate of Randy Wolfe of the band Spirit. The estate claimed that the 1971 mega-hit “Stairway to Heaven” violated the copyright of the 1968 song “Taurus.”

A majority of an 11-judge panel overturned a previous ruling that the jury in the 2016 trial should have heard the recording of “Taurus” and was given poor instructions before jurors found in favour of Page and Plant.

ALSO READ: B.C.’s ‘Captain Maniac’ has seen close to 1,000 concerts since 1964, starting with The Beatles

The composition of the two songs, not their recordings, were at issue in the case, but the plaintiffs had sought to play the two recordings for jurors as part of their argument that Page had access to the song “Taurus” as required to prove a copyright violation.

The attorney for the estate, Francis Malofiy, said that Led Zeppelin prevailed because of technicalities and judges’ misunderstanding of copyright law with their insistence that sheet-music transcriptions of the songs filed with the U.S. copyright office were the only relevant material, especially given that neither Page nor Wolfe even read music.

“I have to go to court proving that Jimmy Page copied something that he never saw,” said Malofiy, who plans to appeal the decision.

He said it was “ridiculous” that jurors could not simply hear the two songs in dispute, and that if they could the case would be an easy call for the Wolfe estate.

“Its frustrating when justice is the search for the truth and the truth escapes us,” Malofiy said.

ALSO READ: B.C. librarian surprised by superstar seat mate

Representatives for Led Zeppelin declined comment.

Monday’s ruling found that because the jury found that Page did have access to the song that the issue was irrelevant, and playing the recording might have prejudiced the jury to consider more than just the compositions.

“When Page testified, he candidly admitted to owning ‘a copy of the album that contains ‘Taurus,’ ” the ruling states. The jury found that both Page and Plant ’had access to the musical composition Taurus before “Stairway to Heaven” was created, it said.

“Once the jury made that finding, the remaining questions on the jury verdict form related to substantial similarity of the works.”

Many of the judges were skeptical at the case’s hearing in September over the playing of the recording, suggesting that it was a backdoor way for the plaintiffs to get the jury to hear the record.

“You’ve got to get your sound recording in to win, don’t you?” Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz said as he questioned Malofiy. “You lose the case unless you do. A hundred times out of a hundred.”

The 9th Circuit also broke with its own precedent on the question of jury instructions and rejected the so-called “inverse ratio” rule, which held that the more the plaintiffs could prove that an alleged song thief had access to the original material, the lower the standard became for finding the two works similar.

The judge in the trial court did not instruct the jury on the rule. Monday’s decision found that he did not need to.

At issue is the classic acoustic introductory lick to “Stairway to Heaven,” constantly played by amateurs in guitar shops for nearly 50 years, and the riff at the centre of the Spirit instrumental “Taurus,” which follows a similar musical line.

ALSO READ: Eminem song composer: New Zealand ad is ‘blatant rip-off’

The ruling, which could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, is a potentially precedent-setting win for musical acts accused of plagiarism, and comes in a period when many star songwriters have lost high-profile cases.

Jurors decided in a 2015 trial that Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” copied Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” and a jury last year year found that Katy Perry’s hit “Dark Horse” copied from a Christian rap song.

Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Okanagan College grading system critical despite COVID-19 pandemic

On heels of petition penned by student, VP academic says grading system necessary for accurate assessments

COVID-19: No guaranteed funding for North Okanagan Friendship Centre

Doors closed to public for foreseeable future, but staff adapting to maintain programming

Parents reach for teaching help from Vernon business

Vernon Teach and Learn equipped with tools to make at-home educating easy, fun

Vernon Vipers name Holt MVP

Forward acquired from Western Hockey League had huge season for Snakes

COVID-19: Diabetes Canada donation bins becoming garbage dumps amid pandemic

Diabetes Canada has asked residents to stop overflowing bins with donations and garbage

LETTER: Vernon oncologist urges public to ‘hold the line’

Doctor says we all must do our part amid COVID-19 pandemic despite economic impact

Here’s how to talk to people who aren’t taking physical distancing seriously

Approach the conversation with empathy says conflict expert

B.C. clears more acute hospital beds as COVID-19 case growth slows

Province holding about 40% of beds empty for peak still to come

As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

Canada Emergency Response Benefit provides $2,000 per month

Spike of visitors to Princeton-area stressing grocery supply chain and healthcare teams

‘We are really not set up to have this many people at this time of year.’ Area H Director Bob Coyne

Summerland to offer mental health webinar

Event will examine ways of coping during COVID-19 pandemic

Okanagan tourism continues to suffer following COVID-19 pandemic

The District of Lake Country voted to suspend tourism on March 31

Van crashes into Kamloops home

Police say the driver went into medical distress before the crash

Most Read