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Bryan E. Kuhn
Counselor at Law, P.C.
Business & Employment Law Attorney

Led Zeppelin defeats copyright infringement claim on appeal

Classic rock fans in Colorado instantly recognize the song “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin, but a chord sequence from the famous song has been at the heart of a copyright dispute. The members of the British rock band have now resolved the case after an 11-judge panel at a U.S. appeals court affirmed the original ruling in 2016 that declared that the songwriter accusing the rock group of infringement could not prove a violation of copyright.

A three-judge panel in 2018 had overturned that original ruling on the basis that the jury instructions in the original trial had been inadequate. Instructions had not informed jurors that original works could be derived from elements already in the public domain. When this happened, the members of Led Zeppelin sought reconsideration of the case by a larger panel of judges, whose decision ended the case in the rock stars’ favor based on the laws specified in the 1909 Copyright Act.

At issue had been the claim that “Stairway to Heaven” lifted elements from the song “Taurus” copyrighted to a songwriter for the band Spirit. At trial, the guitarist for Led Zeppelin testified that the chord sequence had existed for a long time. The stakes had been high in the case. During the five years that the infringement case worked its way through the courts, the song grossed revenue totaling $3.4 million.

Valuable intellectual property like the copyright to “Stairway to Heaven” at times must be defended in the legal system. An attorney might develop legal strategies to help an individual or company confronted by infringement or accused of it. An analysis of copyright registration and any applicable licensing agreements could prepare a person to defend a position in court or negotiate a settlement through arbitration led by an attorney.

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