Led Zeppelin Sued by Spirit for Copyright Infringement

Rock anthem Stairway to Heaven is the subject of a copyright infringement suit against Led Zeppelin. Sixties rock band Spirit claims that Led Zeppelin stole the introduction to Stairway to Heaven from their 1968 instrumental track Taurus.

Taurus included a three measure finger-picked acoustic guitar segment. This segment features a similar chord progression with a ten second segment of the Stairway to Heaven introduction. The estate of lead guitarist to Spirit, Randy California, who died in 1997, brought a claim against Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement. The representatives of the estate are said to have waited to make the claim because they could not pay attorney’s fees. The representatives of the estate are seeking co-writing credit for Randy California as well as an injunction to prohibit the currently scheduled release of Led Zeppelin albums that have been re-mastered.

Elements of Copyright Infringement

Courts consider the facts in a copyright infringement case according to a two-pronged test. The first prong is copying of prior work. In order to determine whether copying of prior work existed, they will look at the defendant’s (in this case Led Zeppelin) access to prior work of Plaintiff (Spirit). The courts will also consider how similar the two works are two one another. The second prong in copyright infringement cases is whether the substantial similarity to prior work is sufficient to constitute improper appropriation. This essentially means that the works are similar in the ears of an ordinary member of the intended audience.

Does Spirit have a case against Led Zeppelin?

As far as the copying of prior work is concerned: Spirit claims that Led Zeppelin had access to their track while they were playing several shows together in 1968 and 1969. Taurus was normally part of the set at these shows. So they may be able to prove access.
With regard to similarity it will be up to expert witnesses to prove and the judge to decide. You can decide if it is similar to the ears of an ordinary member of the intended audience. Take a listen!

Have you been faced with a copyright infringement issue?  Contact Entertainment Law experts Manos & Associates, PL today.