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Led Zeppelin win Stairway To Heaven appeal

Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin (Image credit: Dick Barnatt / Getty Images)

Led Zeppelin have won their appeal in the long-running Stairway To Heaven legal battle.

On Monday, an 11 judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals upheld the 2016 verdict that Led Zeppelin had not plagiarised Spirit’s 1968 track Taurus.

At the original 2016 trial, brought by Michael Skidmore on behalf of the estate of the late Randy Wolfe of Spirit – aka Randy California – the jury found that Led Zeppelin had not copied Taurus, ruling that it was not “intrinsically similar” with the case centred on the descending chord sequence at the beginning of the Led Zep classic.

However, in September 2018, a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals found that the jury at the original trial were improperly instructed on a number of issues, resulting in the possibility of a second trial. 

Lawyers representing Led Zeppelin lodged an appeal, asking for a larger group of judges to rehear the case – and that request was granted, resulting in the case returning to court and yesterday’s verdict.

Also upheld yesterday was the district court’s decision to deny the playing of Taurus and Stairway To Heaven in the courtroom. This stems from the fact that Taurus is covered by the old 1909 Copyright Act, which only applies to sheet music.

The Copyright Act was amended in the 70s to also cover sound recordings.

Last year, 123 artists including Korn, Tool, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, Heart’s Nancy Wilson, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, Primus’ Les Claypool  pledged their support for Led Zeppelin, saying that ruling with Skidmore would harm the creativity of “the music industry in general” and would cause “excessive and unwarranted litigation” in the future.

Led Zeppelin also received a boost from the Trump administration last year, when the US Justice Department submitted “friend of court” papers which insisted that the trial judge in 2016 was correct in his final decision because of the older copyright law.

Scott Munro

News editor for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. He’s been at the news desk since 2014 and when not writing, he can be found watching baseball and visiting whisky distilleries.