Appeals court rules in favor Led Zeppelin in “Stairway to Heaven” copyright-infringement case

Led Zeppelin has scored a big victory with regard to the copyright-infringement lawsuit involving their classic song, “Stairway to Heaven.” Variety reports that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a jury verdict ruling that the famous rock anthem did not infringe on the copyright of the 1968 Spirit song, “Taurus.”

In conjunction with its ruling, the court overturned the “inverse ratio rule,” a precedent long used in copyright cases maintaining that if it can be proven that one artist has had access to another artist’s work, the less similarity between the the plaintiff’s work and the defendant’s is needed to establish infringement.

The appeals court maintained in overturning the rule that the concept of “access” in determining infringement has weakened over the years, since in the modern digital era, millions of musical works can be accessed easily through streaming services and the internet.

“It was a terrible rule,” said Ed McPherson, a lawyer filed legal documents supporting Led Zeppelin, on behalf of songwriters, producers and musicians not directly involved in the case. “If you have a lot of access, that shouldn’t mean there should be a lesser standard to prove copyright infringement. It’s never made sense to me.”

In its ruling, the appeals court also noted that it didn’t feel “Stairway” and “Taurus” were that similar.

The lawsuit initially was launched in 2014 by journalist Michael Skidmore on behalf of the estate of late Spirit frontman Randy California, who wrote “Taurus.”

A jury ruled against the plaintiff in 2016, but a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case in September 2018. The panel held that Judge Gary Klausner had given the wrong jury instructions, and ordered a new trial.

Led Zeppelin’s attorneys then appealed to the full court.

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