New Trial Ordered in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Dispute

The rock band Led Zeppelin must face legal claims that it copies the hit song “Stairway to Heaven” from Randy Wolfe, a band member of Spirit for the song “Taurus.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday reinstated the lawsuit and remanded it to the trial court for a retrial after the trial judge’s jury instructions were found to be wrong and prejudicial.

The jury found that after the death of Wolfe, Michael Skidmore owned the copyright to “Taurus,” and the Led Zeppelin members had access to the song but that the songs were not substantially similar.

Wolfe, a member of the band Spirit, wrote the song “Taurus” in 1966 and it was released in late 1967. Spirit and Led Zeppelin played together in Denver in 1968 and evidence at trial found Led Zeppelin had access to the music.

In 1971, the band released a new album that included the classic, “Stairway to Heaven,” written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Following a five-day trial, jurors ruled for Led Zeppelin. But the appeals court found that the trial court’s ruling that sound recordings could not be played to prove Zeppelin’s access to the disputed song, the inclusion of one expert witness and imposition of a strict time limit for each side violated due process.

The unanimous decision was written by Judge Richard Paez and joined by Judges Sandra Ikuta and visiting Judge Eric Vitaliano of New York.

Case: Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, No. 16-56057



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