Court to decide whether "Stairway to Heaven" copyright case will go back to trial

Written by on June 11, 2019

Jim Cummins/Michael Ochs Archives/ Getty ImagesLast September, a California federal appeals court’s three-judge panel overturned a jury’s decision ruling in favor of Led Zeppelin in a copyright-infringement lawsuit involving the band’s classic song “Stairway to Heaven.” Now, the rock legends have a chance to avoid another trial.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the full appeals court ruled Monday that a new hearing will be held before an 11-judge panel that will allow Led Zeppelin to argue why the original 2016 jury decision should be upheld.

The hearing will take place this year in San Francisco during the last week of September.

A previously reported, the lawsuit claims that the opening of “Stairway to Heaven” was lifted from “Taurus,” a 1968 instrumental tune by the U.S. psychedelic band Spirit. The suit was initiated by a trustee for the estate of late Spirit frontman Randy Wolfe — a.k.a. Randy California — who wrote “Taurus.”

In overturning the 2016 ruling last year, the three-judge panel decided that the original trial judge’s instructions to the jury were “erroneous and prejudicial,” and felt that the judge made a mistake by not allowing a recording of “Taurus” while guitarist Jimmy Page was on the witness stand during the proceedings.

The trial judge’s instructions to the jury included telling them to disregard certain similarities between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Spirit” that were too common to be copyrighted. The appeals court panel in 2018 felt that the judge’s instructions regarding what is and isn’t a violation of copyright law were inaccurate.

In requesting a new hearing, Led Zeppelin argued that allowing copyright protection for “commonplace elements” in a composition would result in “widespread confusion” in the music industry.

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