Justice Department Sides With Led Zeppelin in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Legal Battle
Trump administration finds judge ruled correctly in terms of application of pre-1972 copyright law
The Trump administration weighed in on the legal battle over “Stairway to Heaven” this week, with the Department of Justice siding with Led Zeppelin in their copyright dispute with the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy (California) Wolfe.
Although an appeal of the lawsuit against Led Zeppelin is still ongoing, the Justice Department filed an amicus this week in support of previous judge’s ruling that stated that the copyrights of musical compositions prior to 1972 were only protected as sheet music; in 1972, Congress changed the law to protect sound recordings, NBC News reports.
“Taurus,” the Spirit song that Led Zeppelin allegedly infringed on for “Stairway to Heaven,” was written in 1967, making it applicable to the previous federal law.
The Justice Department added that despite the similarities between the two tracks, under the previous federal law, the contested passages must be nearly identical; since they are not, the Justice Department argued Led Zeppelin rightly prevailed in the previous trial under the pre-1972 copyright law.
“There should be no serious dispute that the passages of Stairway to Heaven and Taurus that are at issue here are not virtually identical. At a minimum, the notes and rhythm are not all, or even mostly, the same,” the government wrote in the amicus.
Despite the Department of Justice’s stance, in response to an appeal by the Wolfe estate, the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals still ordered a new trial Friday, continuing the five-year legal battle. The appeals court found that the previous judge erred during jury instructions as well as refusing to allow the Wolfe estate’s legal team to play “Taurus” during Jimmy Plant’s testimony, Variety reports.
“Without a selection and arrangement instruction, the jury instructions severely undermined [the Wolfe trustee’s] argument for extrinsic similarity, which is exactly what the jury found lacking,” Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez wrote in his appeals decision Friday. The case will go before an appeals court in September.