CopyrightLitigationPatent

Ninth Circuit Alters Its Approach to Assessing Copyright Infringement in Ruling for Led Zeppelin

The en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ultimately sided with Led Zeppelin in a long-running case examining whether the opening notes of the band’s legendary song “Stairway to Heaven” infringed the song “Taurus,” written by Robert Wolfe of the band Spirit, a contemporary of Led Zeppelin. Michael Skidmore, Trustee for Wolfe’s estate, brought the original suit in 2014. The Court notably struck down its own “inverse ratio rule,” which dictates that there is “a lower standard of proof of substantial similarity when a high degree of access is shown,” as set out in the 2000 case of Three Boys Music Corp. v. Bolton. In September 2018, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit vacated-in-part the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California that “Stairway to Heaven” was not substantially similar to “Taurus”. The case was remanded back to the district court after the appellate court found that certain instructions given by the district court to the jury were erroneous and prejudicial. However, the Court agreed to rehear the case en banc in June 2019.

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