More than 120 artists and industry organizations have lent their support to Led Zeppelin in the ongoing copyright infringement case over ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Now, Zeppelin’s got another unexpected ally.
Over the years, rock legends Led Zeppelin have been the subject of numerous copyright infringement lawsuits. With the latest suit against them having been ordered to a retrial, more than 120 music artists and organizations have filed what is known as amici brief on behalf of the band.
The filings have expressed their support for Zeppelin’s case and argued that the copyright claims against them are frivolous.
That list now includes the U.S. Government, which emphatically weighed in on the side of Zeppelin in an amicus brief this week. “The United States has an interest in the proper interpretation of the copyright laws, which foster innovation and creative expression by protecting the rights of authors to profit from their original works while simultaneously allowing the creation and dissemination of new works,” the brief declared.
“The United States has a particular interest in this case because it concerns the legal effect of depositing a complete copy of a work with the Copyright Office, an agency of the federal government, as well as the standard for originality applied by the Copyright Office in examining and registering copyrighted works.”
That standard, according to the government, may be getting abused. In the filing, members of both the U.S. Copyright Office and U.S. Department of Justice questioned “whether basic musical elements, such as a chord or chromatic scale, may ever be copyrightable, and whether the selection and arrangement of a small number of such elements can be entitled to only ‘thin’ copyright protection, meaning that the copyright is infringed only by virtually identical copying.”
In 2014, one of the descendants of the late Randy Craig Wolfe — who was a member of Spirit and also one of its songwriters — filed a lawsuit against Led Zeppelin in U.S. federal court, accusing the band of copying the introduction of “Stairway to Heaven” from a guitar riff on a song by Spirit called “Taurus.”
A few years later, when the case went to trial in California, a jury found in favor of Zeppelin after its lawyers demonstrated that the riff in question existed in the public domain and was not a unique, copyrightable element. But the plaintiffs in the case appealed the verdict, and a 3-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously decided to overturn the decision because the judge in the case gave jurors erroneous information about copyright law.
The technicality kept the highly-controversial case alive, and drew heavy support from the music industry.
Among those expressing their support are Sean Lennon, Korn, Tool and the Songwriters of North America. 123 people and organizations in total have joined the brief, which states that if the case against Zeppelin succeeds, it could hamper musical creativity.
However, Wolfe, while he was alive, never claimed that Zeppelin had infringed on his copyright, nor did he ever take any legal actions against the band.