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Led Zeppelin get appeal hearing in 'Stairway To Heaven' plagiarism saga

Led Zeppelin in 2012 © Getty

Led Zeppelin's lawyers will meet before a federal appeals court this autumn in an attempt to avoid a second ‘Stairway To Heaven’ trial.

Back in June 2016, Led Zeppelin were cleared of copying the opening guitar lines in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ from the 1967 Spirit track ‘Taurus’ at a Los Angeles court following a six-day plagiarism trial.

However, in September 2018 a three-judge panel on the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals handed the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe a win and ordered another trial.

The panel deemed that that the jury had been improperly instructed about unprotectable music elements and originality, alongside other issues.

In response, Led Zeppelin’s legal representatives lodged an appeal asking for the case to be reheard. The 9th Circuit announced yesterday (10th June) that an 11-judge panel will review the matter en banc in San Francisco on the week commencing 23rd September.

It’s possible that Led Zeppelin may be able to withhold the original ruling if the judges rule in their favour.

The Plaintiff of Wolfe’s camp, Michael Skidmore, also requested a rehearing after taking exception to certain parts of the 9th Circuit's decision in September.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Led Zeppelin’s lawyer, Peter Anderson, said:  "Respectfully, the decision errs in faulting the district court for omitting a selection-and-arrangement instruction even though plaintiff objected to the district court giving it, and for instructing — correctly — that copyright does not protect public domain elements.

“The decision also errs because more probably than not the verdict would have been the same. The errors warrant en banc review because if left uncorrected they allow a jury to find infringement based on very different uses of public domain material and will cause widespread confusion in copyright cases in this Circuit."   

Skidmore's lawyer Francis Malofiy argues: "Nearly every song composed from 1909 to 1978, excepting classical music, was composed on instruments, not sheet music. The lead sheets submitted to the Copyright Office are complete enough to identify the songs, but almost never consist of all the notes in the musical compositions.

“There is no evidence, no statutory text, and no reason to believe that Congress ever intended that an author converting his common law copyright to a federal copyright by registration could possibly shrink/modify the scope of his already existing copyright."

Feature: The 20 greatest Led Zeppelin songs of all time

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