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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Led Zeppelin's Copyright Litigation Headed to Trial

Full disclosure: like many of the over-50 readers of this blog, Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is one of this author's favorite songs. That iconic track, perhaps more than any other, cemented Zeppelin's status as one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

A 2014 copyright infringement lawsuit claims that this track was ripped-off from a lesser known act, Spirit and Randy California, back in rock's heady heyday in 1968 when Zeppelin opened for Spirit.

The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, reads like a rock history documentary of the early days of Zeppelin and Spirit. Alleging that Zeppelin, and its front men Jimmy Paige and Robert Plant, ripped-off many other artists' material for their blockbuster hits, the suit promises to devote all damages recovered to promote the musical aspirations of children in public schools.

For their part, Paige and Plant cannot recall playing with the band Spirit and have never heard of the song "Taurus", the song alleged to have been co-opted by Zeppelin. This lack of memory is due, Plaintiff alleges, to the protracted drug and alcohol abuse of the Zeppelin front men.

Last week, Judge R. Gary Kalusner denied Zeppelin's motion for summary judgment, finding a "substantial similarity" between Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and Spirit's "Taurus"; similar enough to go to trial. Trial is scheduled for mid-May.

You may be thinking, why did Randy California's trust wait so long before filing suit? Zeppelin has asserted defenses of waiver, abandonment of the claim and laches.

Zeppelin's lawyers are also seeking to preclude evidence in the jury trial of their legendary drug use. Although this lawsuit involves the technical aspects of a song introduction and its specific musical notes, the litigation has a tawdry potential given the super-group's defenses.

Stay tuned for how this interesting litigation unfolds next month.

Post Script: 06/24/2016 - the Led Zeppelin jury asked to hear each song one more time; within a half hour of listening to the songs, they decided for Zeppelin; case over. The trust is now considering whether it will appeal.

Post Post Script: 08/17/2016 - since losing the jury trial, the lawyer for the Randy California Trust has been disbarred for issues unrelated to the Zeppelin case. Led Zeppelin's request for reimbursement for attorney fees of nearly one million dollars was denied by the judge that conducted the trial.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post.

July 1, 2016 at 2:16 PM 

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