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The Led Zeppelin rock band won a copyright dispute over its iconic “Stairway to Heaven” song in a federal appeals court in San Francisco last week.
An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled by a 9-2 vote March 9 that a short opening passage in the British band’s 1971 song did not violate the copyright of an earlier song written by the late guitarist Randy Wolfe for his band Spirit in 1967.
The panel upheld the conclusion of a federal jury in Los Angeles in 2016 that disputed passages in the two songs were not substantially similar.
Among other conclusions, the appeals court said the trial judge was correct in not allowing the jury to hear a sound recording of the earlier song, “Taurus,” as played by Wolfe’s band. At the time Wolfe copyrighted the sheet music of “Taurus” in 1967, copyright law covered only written sheet music and not music recordings.
Instead of hearing the full band’s recording of the earlier song, the jurors listened to a guitarist’s partial reconstruction based on the sheet music.