The Stairway to Copyright Litigation
U.S. District Judge R Gary Klausner has ruled that a jury trial is needed to determine if Led Zeppelin’s acclaimed “Stairway to Heaven” copied the iconic opening guitar riff . American Rock band ‘Spirit’ allege that the four-bar instrumental guitar passage was been copied from their song ‘Taurus’ which released prior to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”.
His Honour found that the lawyers for the trustee of late guitarist for Spirit, Randy Wolfe, had presented sufficient evidence to support the case to be heard in court. It will now be up to a jury to decide whether Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy page are liable for copyright infringement.
Lawyer for the trustee has said that Page might have been inspired to write Stairway for Led Zeppelin after hearing Spirit perform Taurus while the bands toured together in 1968 and 1969 although Wolfe never received song-writing credit.
The defendants maintain that the chord progressions are clichéd and a common convention throughout the music industry, and therefore do not deserve copyright protection.
However, the judge has stated that a jury could find a “substantial similarity” between the first two minutes of Stairway and Taurus, “arguably the most recognisable and important segments” of the songs.
Australia copyright law contains a similar threshold test of ‘substantial similarity’. The Australian common law has interpreted this concept as a question of quality rather than the quantity taken from the source work. Therefore, if unique, striking or key melodic elements of a musical work are found to have been taken, then it is likely that copyright has been infringed.
It is important to note that copyright infringement may have occurred even if an artist did not consciously intend or contemplate ‘copying’ another musical work.
Irish Bentley Lawyers have a significant level of experience in all facets of Intellectual Property law including Copyright law. We have been successfully involved in a number of copyright disputes, within Australia and internationally. We are able to assist at the onset of a future business endeavour, advise on protection of works and represent clients at all stages of infringement action.
Please note that the above does not constitute legal advice and Irish Bentley Lawyers make no representations or warranties as to the accuracy of any of the information contained herein.
If you have a copyright litigation issue, then please do not hesitate to contact the team at Irish Bentley Lawyers – there is no substitute for proper legal advice based on your individual and unique circumstances.