Led Zeppelin wins “Stairway to Heaven” copyright case

Via BBC and NPR, a Los Angeles jury found Led Zeppelin did not infringe a copyright with its iconic song “Stairway to Heaven.” While Led Zeppelin won the case (and gets to keep its $562 million+ in royalties), the jury did find that the band had access to prior art (the older song), an element of copyright infringement. After the court victory, Zeppelin band members released a statement to the LA Times: “We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years … We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.” This jury verdict for Led Zeppelin comes on the heels of our prior post about the case.

My law firmJohnson Law KC LLC, is experienced counseling individual, corporate, and nonprofit clients on entertainment law, copyright, trademark, and IP litigation issues. We work with authors, musicians, artists, photographers, bloggers, songwriters, filmmakers, and others to provide cutting edge, reliable expertise on IP. We can help you answer these questions with confidence and friendly expertise. If we can serve you with your entertainment law, copyright, or IP questions, please call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2016, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

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Substantial Similarity and Copyright Law

In copyright law, when a person claims someone else stole (or “infringed”) their work, they have to prove substantial similarity between the two works. In Los Angeles, a trial is underway about the Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway to Heaven.” (The band’s Jimmy Page talks about writing the iconic song here.) Since its 1971 release, the band has made well over $562 million in song royalties. But some other musicians claim the song is too similar to an earlier song, “Taurus” (1968), infringing the Spirit band’s prior art. As the parties battle the case out in court, both sides are calling expert witnesses to evaluate how similar the songs are (or aren’t), and whether copyright infringement occurred. What do you think – are the songs too similar, does Stairway infringe on Taurus? Whatever the court’s decision, this case may reverberate through the music and copyright law worlds for some time.

P.S. – The Dark Horse copyright infringement case that we discussed some time ago was dismissed from St Louis court, but no news on whether it was refiled in California, which the St Louis judge suggested was the proper venue.

My law firmJohnson Law KC LLC, is experienced counseling individual, corporate, and nonprofit clients on entertainment law, copyright, trademark, and IP litigation issues. We work with authors, musicians, artists, photographers, bloggers, songwriters, filmmakers, and others to provide cutting edge, reliable expertise on IP. We can help you answer these questions with confidence and friendly expertise. If we can serve you with your entertainment law, copyright, or IP questions, please call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2016, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.

Copyright Attorney’s Fees

Thursday morning the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., per Justice Elena Kagan, the latest salvo in a fascinating copyright saga over John Wiley’s textbook business (see Slip, 1-2, where Justice Kagan tells the story of the plaintiff’s international entrepreneurial flair). The textbook company sued Kirtsaeng for copyright infringement, for illegally distributing their textbooks overseas (Copyright Act, §§106(3), 602(a)(1)), but he said the first sale doctrine applied in his defense. The case made  its way through the courts, and several years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the first sale doctrine applied to allow the resale of foreign-made or domestically-made books (Slip, 2).

The Copyright Act (§505) allows a court to award attorney’s fees to the winning party in a copyright case. Having won, the plaintiff Mr Kirtsaeng had racked up about $2 million of legal bills, fighting his way through the courts and winning. The Court took up his case again to resolve a lower court split over how to calculate a reasonable attorney’s fee – give substantial weight to objective reasonableness (2nd Cir), look at the totality of circumstances (4th Cir), or simply presuming the winning party got its legal bill paid (5th Cir). The Supreme Court sent the legal bill back to the trial court for review, instructing them to effectively blend the lower court approaches and “giv[e] substantial weight to the reasonableness of Wiley’s litigating position, but also taking into account all other relevant factors” (Slip, 12) and noting “courts must view all the circumstances of a case on their own terms, in light of the Copyright Act’s essential goals” (Slip, 11).

My law firmJohnson Law KC LLC, is experienced counseling individual, corporate, and nonprofit clients on entertainment law, copyright, trademark, and IP litigation issues. We work with authors, musicians, artists, photographers, bloggers, songwriters, filmmakers, and others to provide cutting edge, reliable expertise on IP. We can help you answer these questions with confidence and friendly expertise. If we can serve you with your entertainment law, copyright, or IP questions, please call (913-707-9220) or email (steve@johnsonlawkc.com) to schedule a free, convenient consultation.

(c) 2016, Stephen M. Johnson, Esq.