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Songwriters Could Actually Catch Break As DOJ Weighs In On “Stairway To Heaven” Case

4Songwriters have been going through a rough time in the courtrooms of late, often losing out on cases more often as the result of song's 'feel' than its actual melody. That could be changing however, with the Department of Justice weighing in (as it rarely does) on case between Led Zeppelin and Randy California, declaring that the former's song "Stairway to Heaven" is not, in fact, virtually identical to the latter's song "Taurus."


Guest post by Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0

For the past few years songwriters have been under siege in the courtroom when it comes to plagiarism cases. Starting with the Robin Thicke/Marvin Gaye “Blurred Lines” lawsuit to the most recent Katy Perry “Dark Horse” case, songwriters and publishers have been incredulous of the outcomes. It seems like the feel of the song has more to do with the actual verdict than the melody these days. The Led Zeppelin/Randy California “Stairway To Heaven” lawsuit might finally bring some reasonableness back into copyright, and it’s all thanks to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

A few weeks ago the DOJ does something that it rarely does – weigh in on a copyright case. The Department filed an an amicus brief (Friend of the Court document) stating that “the allegedly infringing work is not virtually identical.”

The lawsuit is based around the estate of Randy California (Randy Wolfe) of the band Spirit alleging that Led Zeppelin stole the the song “Stairway To Heaven” from Wolfe’s song “Taurus.” Spirit and Zeppelin shared a bill on the English band’s first tour.

6Although there are similarities in the chord pattern of the intros, the actually song melodies are different, which the DOJ believes enough to put it in writing and submit it to the court.

Songwriters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were cleared of any wrongdoing by the court in a 2016 judgement, but the estate has appealed the decision and the Appeals Court has agreed to take the case on.

The DOJ brief filed last week states that “the copy of the work deposited with the Copyright Office defines the scope of the copyright” and that “the district court’s judgment in favor of defendants should be affirmed because the relevant portion of the copyrighted work is entitled, at most, to a thin copyright, and the allegedly infringing work is not virtually identical”

Let’s hope that the court finds in favor of Zeppelin and return some sense into this process.

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  1. After the Music Modernization Act was signed, the copyright laws and reforms were seen as possible and vital. Anything new? No wonder, Jordan Darville accused lyricists and composers of being too inert and idle while trying to catch the essence of the core issues.
    More news: Songwriters Call For More Freedoms, Less Regulation During ASCAP “Stand With Songwriters” Advocacy Day – article reviewed by pro paper copyright experts.

  2. I’m happy to hear that they are digging into this more. I thought this was going to become a huge problem after the Robin Thick/Marvin Gaye this happened. There are only 12 notes available to all of mankind thereby making it impossible to avoid sounding like something.

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