Ninth Circuit Finds Stairway To Heaven Has No Spirit

December 8, 2020

Man writing a song while holding the guitar
In Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, which after a jury trial determined that defendants including the band Led Zeppelin did not infringe the copyright of the musical composition entitled “Taurus.” The song had been performed by Spirit, a band that had crossed paths with Led Zeppelin during the 1960’s. The crux of the case was this: the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision not to let the jury hear the recording of the plaintiff’s song and compare it with the famous Led Zeppelin recording of “Stairway to Heaven”, in which the allegedly infringing section appears in the introduction. The district court ruled, and the panel affirmed, that the Copyright Act of 1906, which covered the composition, the copyrighted material was the deposit copy of the plaintiff’s composition. As a result, even though the relevant section of Spirit’s recording is believed by many to sound uncannily similar to the introduction to “Stairway to Heaven”, the jury never heard it. Subsequently, after comparing the sheet music reflecting plaintiff’s song with Led Zeppelin’s recording, the jury found that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that specific elements of their composition were copied in the sound recording of “Stairway to Heaven”, thereby eviscerating plaintiff’s copyright infringement claim.


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