Was ‘Stairway to Heaven’ trial fair? Ooh, it makes appeals judges wonder
San Francisco: Anyone can go to to YouTube, listen to a few bars and decide for themselves whether Led Zeppelin’s most famous song sounds eerily similar to a track produced by a band that Zeppelin once toured with.
But two years after Zeppelin prevailed in a copyright fight, an appeals court judge wondered aloud Monday why the album version of Spirit’s song wasn’t played at a trial two years ago in Los Angeles, even while jurors did get to hear a full-fledged recording of Stairway to Heaven.
“It does seem kind of odd the jury never gets to a hear a sound recording of Taurus,” said US circuit judge Richard Paez, who is a year older than Zeppelin’s lead singer, Robert Plant.
The trial judge didn’t allow the album version of Taurus as evidence because the copyright at issue pertained only to the sheet music, not to the recording.
Paez and the other two judges hearing 40 minutes of arguments in San Francisco didn’t tip their hand on how they will rule on a request to nullify the jury verdict. They did ask pointed questions of both sides about copyright law and got an earful about the complexities of music theory, especially from Zeppelin’s lawyer.
Paez at one point apologized—“I don’t mean to make much ado of this”—but he also quipped that if Zeppelin really did copy Spirit, the musicians didn’t do it by pulling up the sheet music deposited at the federal copyright office. Bloomberg
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