Courtroom sketch by Bill Robles

Led Zeppelin copyright case draws support from 123 other musicians

News 06/08/2019

More than 100 over musicians have joined in to support Led Zeppelin while they continue their court battles over a copyright issue involving the iconic song of all time, 'Stairway to Heaven'.

An amicus brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals states that the reason behind this act was because each will "undoubtedly be affected by the outcome of this critically important case."

[The brief] represents 123 songwriters out of roughly 500,000 – a whopping .02 percent!

The claims of Led Zeppelin lifting a riff from Spirit's 'Taurus' song for the intro of their own song were initially rejected by Californian federal juries. However, a member from the band's legal team admitted that the riff existed in the public domain. That opened the case up to appeal by estate trustee Michael Skidmore, who represents the late Spirit songwriter, Randy California.

Tool, Korn, Sean Lennon, Songwriters of North America, Nashville Songwriters Association International and more have come to support Led Zeppelin with the amicus brief mentioned above. It states, "There was no evidence presented at the Led Zeppelin trial that the otherwise unprotected elements that appeared in 'Taurus' were presented in such an original pattern or compilation as to garner copyright protection."

Listen and compare the two songs in question below.

The brief goes on to say, "the purported 'selection and arrangement' in 'Taurus' that also appeared in 'Stairway to Heaven' merely [consists] of random similarities of commonplace elements. After filtering out the generic elements or musical commonplaces identified in 'Taurus' under the extrinsic test, what remains are two completely different songs."

Skidmore's attorney, Francis Malofiy, dismissed the effort altogether. He indicated that it represented a mere 123 songwriters out of a rough number of 500,000. "... a whopping .02 percent! It's really nothing more than a blast piece for the industry," he told Digital Music News."The brief is unimpressive and dull."

The public domain, which allows anyone to appropriate potentially non-copyrighted elements of Led Zeppelin's composition, was also another issue these songwriters were concerned over.  "Significantly, however, although facts and elements in the public domain, as well as commonplace elements, if arranged in an original manner, may qualify for thin copyright protection." 

"The component parts themselves do not become protected by copyright simply by virtue of their combination into a larger whole."

 

[We], whose music entertains and enriches the lives of countless people worldwide, will therefore undoubtedly be affected by…the outcome of this critically important case.

 

They concluded that if Ninth Circuit Court were to rule in favour of Spirit, it would cause "substantial confusion". They explained that any artists who reads the opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court may fear the "very common use of any 'descending chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes,' or any elements in the 'public domain,' could form the basis of an infringement action."

Read the full amicus brief here.