UPDATE: June 12, 2019, 12 p.m. — Led Zeppelin has been given another chance in a long-running legal battle over Stairway to Heaven that alleges the 1971 rock anthem copies the 1968 song Taurus by American prog rock outfit Spirit.
On Monday, a panel of 11 judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear the band’s appeal in the copyright infringement lawsuit started by Michael Skidmore, trustee for the estate of the late Spirit singer Randy California.
As reported by Reuters, Skidmore’s attorney, Francis Malofiy, revealed that the panel will also make a decision on whether or not to broaden copyright protection on Taurus.
The judges will now hear the case in late September in San Francisco, Calif., according to the Associated Press.
Led Zeppelin and the band’s 1971 classic Stairway to Heaven are on their way back to court for a second time.
Judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the previous judge provided “erroneous jury instruction” in its first trial for copyright infringement.
The first lawsuit alleged that Led Zeppelin, the performers of Stairway to Heaven, did not credit the 1968 song, Taurus, by Spirit. The trustee of late Spirit guitarist (Randy California), ignited the plagiarism case in 2014. The trial saw Zeppelin legends Jimmy Page and Robert Plant successfully defend the inception of their most celebrated tune.
Zeppelin were deemed not guilty of plagiarism in 2016, but the jury’s initial decision was overturned on Friday. It was deemed that the lower court inspired prejudice in the jury and that the case should face a retrial. The court argued:
“There is a low bar for originality in copyright.”
In a report from the Los Angeles Times, the three-judge panel revealed “ should have told the jury that the selection and arrangements of some musical elements can violate copyright law,” including descending chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes.
WATCH BELOW: The Led Zeppelin tune that sparked the lawsuit — Stairway to Heaven
Randy California trustee, Michael Skidmore, decided that after 43 years, Led Zeppelin should quite literally face the music. He sued the band and their label, Warner Music Group, for copyright infringement in 2014.
Guitarist and co-songwriter, Page, was accused of stealing chord progressions from the Spirit instrumental Taurus, which he apparently used for the intro of the timeless Stairway to Heaven.
After five days on trial, the Zeppelin bandmates prevailed by testifying that the song was, in fact, an original writing. Other than three notes in a similarly descending progression, the jury’s verdict stated, “there was no substantial similarity in the extrinsic elements,” between Taurus and Stairway to Heaven.
Skidmore argued that not playing the original Spirit recording worked in Zeppelin’s favour. He said that the jury should have been able to monitor Page’s demeanour while listening to the song that he allegedly “stole.”
It is unclear which of the band members — if any — will return to court for the retrial. It is likely that bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones will take the stand to defend his bandmates. He was dismissed as a defendant shortly before the 2016 trial took place.
Although he didn’t help write the Led Zeppelin IV monument, Jones was the only (surviving) member not to testify and offer insight of Stairway to Heaven’s inception.
The upcoming trial collides with the 50th anniversary of Led Zeppelin, threatening to potentially tarnish their legacy.
On the possibility of another reunion, Plant responded to the Press Association, kiboshing the idea.
“Nobody needs coercing. You either want to do something or you don’t.” He cited the only way they’d get back together would be in a “chip shop in Camden Town.”
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