Ninth Circuit to review ‘Stairway to Heaven’ case


Ninth Circuit to review ‘Stairway to Heaven’ case

Bruce Alan Bennett /

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has decided to review a copyright infringement case in which rock band Led Zeppelin are accused of stealing elements of their 1971 song “Stairway to Heaven”.

The estate of late musician Randy Wolfe, guitarist of the band Spirit, sued Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, and the band’s record label Warner/Chappell Music (WCM) in 2015, accusing them of plagiarising his 1967 song “Taurus”.

In 2016, the US District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favour of Led Zeppelin, but on appeal the Ninth Circuit decided last September that errors on the part of the trial judge required a re-trial.

According to a court order issued on Monday, June 10, the Ninth Circuit will now review the case. The en banc rehearing of the case will take place during the week of September 23, 2019, the court ruled.

Wolfe’s estate argued that the district court erred in considering the infringement case on the basis of sheet music of “Taurus”, rather than performances of the song.

In its response, WCM said that Wolfe’s estate was erroneously claiming that copyright for the song “Taurus” extended to all performances of the song rather than the composition itself.

“Plaintiff’s argument would unmoor copyright claims from infringement by copying a specific, registered work, and extend copyright claims to the alleged copying of other, unregistered versions as they may have been performed over time,” WCM argued.

Despite this, however, lawyers for WCM accepted that a rehearing was “appropriate and indeed necessary, but not for the reasons [the] plaintiff claims”.

In arguing for the scope of copyright protection to be extended to unregistered performances of a work, Wolfe’s estate was “[inviting] the court to commit grave and fundamental error with far-reaching effects”, WCM argued.

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Led Zeppelin, Stairway to HEaven, Randy Wolfe, Spirit, Taurus, music, performance, copyright infringement, Warner/Chappell Music