Make no mistake about it; Led Zeppelin is undoubtedly on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest Rock and Roll bands of all time.
Sure there are only four up there on Mount Rushmore, and depending on who you talk to, the others would probably be a combination of The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival. One thing is for sure; most Rock and Roll fans would agree Led Zeppelin is up there.
But the United States Justice Department just did an odd thing for the band members of Led Zeppelin.
Led Zeppelin gave the world some incredible albums in the 1970s – nine full albums, not including live or singles, to be exact. Some of their greatest hits include When the Levee Breaks, Dazed and Confused, Kashmir, Whole Lotta Love, Immigrant Song, Rock and Roll, Black Dog and Ramble On.
But Led Zeppelin’s most famous song – it might very well be the most famous song in existence – is without a doubt 1971’s Stairway to Heaven. The story goes that The Beatles’ George Harrison was once asked at a party whether he was a fan of Led Zeppelin and he admitted he was but also added they didn’t have anything soft.
Stairway to Heaven was allegedly Led Zeppelin’s response to Harrison’s comment.
But would you believe that there has been a lawsuit against the band for plagiarizing Stairway to Heaven?
In the wake of Katy Perry losing her case that her hit song Dark Horse was stolen from a Christian rapper, the U.S. Department of Justice felt the need to weigh in on the accusation that the popular song was from Taurus by Spirit.
Michael Skidmore, the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, sued the band in 2014, arguing that “Stairway to Heaven” ripped off elements of Wolfe’s composition. A jury ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin in 2016, finding that the two songs were not substantially similar.
Circuit Judge Richard A. Paez initially wrote, “Without a selection and arrangement instruction, the jury instructions severely undermined Skidmore’s argument for extrinsic similarity, which is exactly what the jury found lacking.”
Skidmore then appealed. And last Friday a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial. The panel found that U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner gave instructions that failed to make clear that an arrangement of otherwise unprotectable elements in a song can be sufficiently original to merit copyright protection.
But in June, the full Ninth Circuit said it would hear the appeal again. Last week, the Justice Department said the trial judge was correct in ruling that the only work subject to copyright protection was the sheet music — which was filed with the copyright office — and not sound recordings and that the relevant portion of the songs is not virtually identical.
The Katy Perry Dark Horse judgment was a huge landmark case involving intellectual property and will likely reverberate throughout cases similar to these moving forward.
The DOJ filed an amicus brief late Thursday supporting Zeppelin against a claim by the trustees of the late Spirit singer/guitarist, Wolfe — or also known as Randy California — that it lifted a musical passage for his song.
That’s really odd for the DOJ to take a stronghold approach for the famous British band and it almost seems like it’s undermining the ninth circuit court. But if you’re familiar with the case, this isn’t something like Vanilla Ice stealing Queen’s Under Pressure; the facts in the case are flimsy and unsubstantiated at best.