In the lawsuit that never seems to go away, the Associated Press is now reporting that a federal appeals court agreed on Monday, June 10 to give Led Zeppelin a new hearing to defend a jury’s favorable verdict in a suit that claimed the opening lines of “Stairway To Heaven” had been plagiarized from the 1968 instrumental song “Taurus.”
It was only last September when a federal appeals court unanimously decided to overturn a jury’s decision that Zeppelin’s 1971 tune was not a rip-off of Spirit’s song. Michael Skidmore, the trustee of “Taurus” songwriter Randy “California” Wolfe’s estate, had brought the claims forward more than four decades after “Stairway To Heaven” appeared on Led Zeppelin’s untitled album, better known as ‘Led Zeppelin IV.’
In June 2016, a Los Angeles jury deliberated for about five hours before deciding unanimously in favor of Led Zeppelin. The verdict in the case came down within 15 minutes of the jury’s request to re-listen to both Spirit’s “Taurus” and “Stairway To Heaven”. They wanted to hear a section of each song twice, alternating from one to the other. They decided that what they heard wasn’t substantially similar enough to call it copyright infringement.
An appeal was put in place by Skidmore and in September a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided a new trial was needed because the judge who presided over a 2016 trial had given erroneous and prejudicial instructions to the jury. The court said the judge erred by telling the jury that common musical elements, such as “descending chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes,” were not protected by copyright. The court also said the jury should have been permitted to hear the album recording of “Taurus.”
“Without a selection and arrangement instruction, the jury instructions severely undermined Skidmore’s argument for extrinsic similarity, which is exactly what the jury found lacking,” wrote Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez, for the court.
After the June 2016 verdict, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant released a statement saying that they were glad to see the issue resolved: “We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years,” they said.
Plaintiff’s attorney Francis Malofiy later claimed he lost his case on a technicality, insisting that it was unfair the jury was unable to listen to the sound recording of “Taurus” and instead was limited to hearing an expert performance of the registered sheet music.