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“Stairway to Heaven” did not infringe copyright

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21/09/2016

We have reported previously on the copyright litigation concerning the Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway to Heaven”.  The dispute has now been resolved by a jury which decided in favour of Led Zeppelin.

The suit, it will be recalled, was initiated by the trustee of the late Randy Wolfe, a member of the band Spirit, who claimed that Led Zeppelin had copied the opening riffs of “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirit’s song “Taurus”.  The claimant’s lawyers adduced evidence that the two bands had crossed paths early in their musical careers and also expert evidence highlighting the similarity of the two sets of chords.  Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page accepted that the bands’ paths might indeed have crossed but denied any copying.  The jury agreed finding that the two songs were not sufficiently similar to support a finding of copyright infringement.

Another music-related copyright dispute that we have previously reported on relates to the song “Happy Birthday”.  Last September, the US District Court of the Central District of California ruled that copyright in the song – allegedly the highest grossing song of all time – was not owned by the music publisher Warner/Chappell but belonged instead in the public domain.  A US federal judge has now approved a settlement bringing the dispute to an end.

Next up could well be “This Land is your Land”. A lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in June claiming that the song belongs to the public domain rather than the publishing company, The Richmond Organization and its subsidiary, Ludlow Music, which collects licensing fees for use of the song.  The song was written by Woody Guthrie in 1940 and the song was published with a copyright notice in 1945.  Lawyers for the claimant maintain, among other things, that the copyright notice was never renewed with the consequence that the song entered the public domain in 1973, as the then applicable law required copyright notices to be renewed after 28 years.  We will keep you updated as matters progress.

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