Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Stairway to trial

Legal News
Stairway to trial


US judges finds 'substantial' similarity between the first two minutes of rock songs

Legendary rock band Led Zeppelin faces a jury trial in a copyright battle over the ownership of its classic track 'Stairway to Heaven'.

The band's lead singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page have been accused of copyright infringement by a trustee for the late guitarist Randy 'California' Wolfe, the composer of 'Taurus', a song by the band Spirit.

Trustee Michael Skidmore argued that the defendants may have been inspired to write Led Zeppelin's seminal classic after hearing 'Taurus' performed.

However, Plant and Page countered that the clichéd chord progressions did not deserve copyright protection.

Handing down a decision in Los Angeles, US District Judge Gary Klausner said there was a 'substantial' similarity between 'Stairway to Heaven' and 'Taurus' and that a jury should decide whether there had been an infringement of intellectual property.

'While it is true that a descending chromatic four-chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry, the similarities here transcend this core structure,' wrote the judge.

'What remains is a subjective assessment of the "concept and feel" of two works... a task no more suitable for a judge than for a jury.' Obviously.

Commenting on the case, Robin Fry, a copyright expert at DAC Beachcroft, said: 'Unlike other areas of intellectual property, copyright can never be abandoned or lost just because no legal claim is asserted for years - or even decades in this case.

'Of course, the evidence may be more difficult with memories fading but, given that song - and literary - copyrights now last for 70 years after the end of the year in which the composer died, it is clear we will continue to see more and more of these claims both in the UK and in the US.'

This lawsuit is bigger than 'Moby Dick', due to the legal principles involved, and will undoubtedly leave the jury 'Dazed and Confused', especially if the lawyers 'Ramble On' too long.

Will the result be a 'Heartbreaker' and a 'Blot' on Led Zeppelin's history, or will Plant and Page have a 'Whole Lotta Love' for their legal team?

Okay, we'll stop now.