Led Zeppelin’s fight for “Stairway to Heaven” is not over yet.
Back in June of 2016,
a federal court jury determined that Led Zeppelin, the English rock band that took the world by storm in the 1970’s, was not guilty of stealing the intro to their most famous song, “Stairway to Heaven.” The band was put on trial by California folk group, Spirit, who argued that the descending scale featured in the intro of “Stairway to Heaven” was too audibly similar to that of their song, “Taurus.” The jury sided with Led Zeppelin singer, Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, who are credited with writing “Stairway to Heaven.”
In the original trial, which lasted five days, “United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner failed to advise jurors that while individual elements of a song such as its notes or scale may not qualify for copyright protection, a combination of those elements may if it is sufficiently original, said Ninth Circuit Judge Richard Paez.” According to an article in The New York Times.
Now, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has requested a new trial on the grounds that the original jury members were not allowed to hear an original recording of “Taurus,” an instrumental track from the band’s 1968 self-titled album. Because “Taurus” was protected by copyright law, the jury was only allowed to hear renditions of the song in court. They had to rely on the opinions of musical experts present at the trial.
An article on the issue in The New York Post reads, “‘We conclude that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing the sound recordings of ‘Taurus’ to be played,’ the three-judge appeals panel wrote in its 42-page decision. ‘Further, at any retrial, the district court should reconsider whether an inverse ratio jury instruction is warranted.’”
The inverse ratio rule would lower the bar for how similar the two musical works must be, based on the amount of access that Page and Plant had to the song. A trustee for Randy Wolfe, the artist who wrote “Taurus” states that Spirit was on tour with Zeppelin in 1968 and ‘69 during which time they played the song, “Taurus.”