FILE - In this July 13, 1985 file photo, Led Zeppelin bandmates, singer Robert Plant, left, and guitarist Jimmy Page, reunite to perform for the Live Aid famine relief concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. From left are John Bonham, Robert Plant, Denny and Jimmy Page. A federal appeals court on Monday, March 9, 2020, restored a jury verdict that found Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven.” (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

FILE - In this July 13, 1985 file photo, Led Zeppelin bandmates, singer Robert Plant, left, and guitarist Jimmy Page, reunite to perform for the Live Aid famine relief concert at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. From left are John Bonham, Robert Plant, Denny and Jimmy Page. A federal appeals court on Monday, March 9, 2020, restored a jury verdict that found Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven.” (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)

Zeppelin wins latest battle of the bands in ‘Stairway’ fight

Court handed win to Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, dealt blow to estate of Randy Wolfe

A federal appeals court on Monday restored a jury verdict that found Led Zeppelin did not steal “Stairway to Heaven.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco handed the major win to guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant and dealt a blow to the estate of Randy Wolfe of the band Spirit. The estate claimed that the 1971 mega-hit “Stairway to Heaven” violated the copyright of the 1968 song “Taurus.”

A majority of an 11-judge panel overturned a previous ruling that the jury in the 2016 trial should have heard the recording of “Taurus” and was given poor instructions before jurors found in favour of Page and Plant.

ALSO READ: B.C.’s ‘Captain Maniac’ has seen close to 1,000 concerts since 1964, starting with The Beatles

The composition of the two songs, not their recordings, were at issue in the case, but the plaintiffs had sought to play the two recordings for jurors as part of their argument that Page had access to the song “Taurus” as required to prove a copyright violation.

The attorney for the estate, Francis Malofiy, said that Led Zeppelin prevailed because of technicalities and judges’ misunderstanding of copyright law with their insistence that sheet-music transcriptions of the songs filed with the U.S. copyright office were the only relevant material, especially given that neither Page nor Wolfe even read music.

“I have to go to court proving that Jimmy Page copied something that he never saw,” said Malofiy, who plans to appeal the decision.

He said it was “ridiculous” that jurors could not simply hear the two songs in dispute, and that if they could the case would be an easy call for the Wolfe estate.

“Its frustrating when justice is the search for the truth and the truth escapes us,” Malofiy said.

ALSO READ: B.C. librarian surprised by superstar seat mate

Representatives for Led Zeppelin declined comment.

Monday’s ruling found that because the jury found that Page did have access to the song that the issue was irrelevant, and playing the recording might have prejudiced the jury to consider more than just the compositions.

“When Page testified, he candidly admitted to owning ‘a copy of the album that contains ‘Taurus,’ ” the ruling states. The jury found that both Page and Plant ’had access to the musical composition Taurus before “Stairway to Heaven” was created, it said.

“Once the jury made that finding, the remaining questions on the jury verdict form related to substantial similarity of the works.”

Many of the judges were skeptical at the case’s hearing in September over the playing of the recording, suggesting that it was a backdoor way for the plaintiffs to get the jury to hear the record.

“You’ve got to get your sound recording in to win, don’t you?” Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz said as he questioned Malofiy. “You lose the case unless you do. A hundred times out of a hundred.”

The 9th Circuit also broke with its own precedent on the question of jury instructions and rejected the so-called “inverse ratio” rule, which held that the more the plaintiffs could prove that an alleged song thief had access to the original material, the lower the standard became for finding the two works similar.

The judge in the trial court did not instruct the jury on the rule. Monday’s decision found that he did not need to.

At issue is the classic acoustic introductory lick to “Stairway to Heaven,” constantly played by amateurs in guitar shops for nearly 50 years, and the riff at the centre of the Spirit instrumental “Taurus,” which follows a similar musical line.

ALSO READ: Eminem song composer: New Zealand ad is ‘blatant rip-off’

The ruling, which could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, is a potentially precedent-setting win for musical acts accused of plagiarism, and comes in a period when many star songwriters have lost high-profile cases.

Jurors decided in a 2015 trial that Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” copied Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” and a jury last year year found that Katy Perry’s hit “Dark Horse” copied from a Christian rap song.

Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Court

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lisa Beare, the MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, was sworn in as a member of cabinet on Thursday, Nov. 26. (Special to The News)
MLA for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows has a new cabinet position

Lisa Beare is the new Minister of Citizen’s Services

Email your cooking questions to Chef Dez at dez@chefdez.com.
ON COOKING: Mulligatawny is tough to spell but a tasty soup

Chef Dez offers up his version of a classic soup

Emma Davison, one half of Golden Ears Cheesecrafters in Maple Ridge, reflects on running her business in the year of COVID-19. (Scott Saunders/Special to The News)
OUTLOOK: Buying local imperative to agriculture businesses

Farmgate companies adapt to survive during early months of pandemic

Natasha Brayshaw’s acrylic on paper called Snowy Magic. (Vicuña Art Studio/Special to The News)
Representatives of MK Illumination light up Memorial Peace Park on Wednesday. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)
Maple Ridge decorating for Christmas

Lights and decorations going up in the downtown

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
New ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room opening next week in Chilliwack

It’s a space for reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, or gender-based violence to police

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

Most Read