Led Zeppelin Scores Big Win In ‘Stairway To Heaven’ Copyright Case
The ruling is also a significant win for the music industry, which has felt itself fighting a losing battle against frivolous copyright suits since the “Blurred Lines” trial in 2015.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the long-running copyright battle over Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” leaving in place a ruling that rejected infringement allegations over the 1971 song. The original lawsuit was filed back in 2014, when a descendant of Randy Craig Wolfe, a former performer and songwriter for the band Spirit, claimed that the guitar introduction used in “Stairway to Heaven” was ripped off from a 1968 instrumental piece written by Wolfe, entitled “Taurus.” Here's a comparison of the two.
After losing at trial, Wolfe's estate appealed to the 9th Circuit and then to the Supreme Court. The estate argued that the 9th Circuit’s decision was unfairly tilted against plaintiffs, and in favor of the music industry. Read the petition to the US Supreme Court here.
But the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal without comment, thus ending six years of litigation over claims that the song’s writers, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, plagiarized the song’s iconic intro from the 1968 song “Taurus” by the group Spirit.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld a jury verdict finding the song did not infringe on “Taurus.” The appeals court overturned the so-called “inverse ratio rule,” a standard that set a lower bar for similarity if plaintiffs could prove a higher level of access to the infringed work.
The 9th Circuit also made it harder to claim infringement based on a “selection and arrangement” of un-protectable musical elements. Finally, the ruling expressed skepticism about claims based on just a handful of notes.