Led Zeppelin have won the infamous “Stairway to Heaven” copyright battle after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier today. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case leaves in place last March’s ruling that said Led Zeppelin did not infringe on Spirit’s “Taurus.”
The case had first started in 2014, when journalist Michael Skidmore filed on behalf of the late Robert Wolfe to claim that Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Stairway to Heaven,” which was released in 1971, had allegedly taken the intro from Wolfe’s band Spirit’s 1968 song “Taurus.” Skidmore had become a co-trustee of Wolfe’s estate back in 2006.
A judge ruled against him in 2016, and Skidmore eventually took the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Skidmore and his lawyers made the allegation that because the original judge did not require the jury to listen to “Taurus,” and instead only look at the sheet music, that allowed them to rule in Led Zeppelin’s favor.
In September, 2018, a three-panel of judges in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had revived the case, ruling that Judge Gary Klausner, who had overseen the 2016 case, gave the jury incorrect instructions. The request to appeal was granted, and a panel of 11 judges planned to hear the case in September 2019. The hearing was later pushed back until March of this year, with the appeal ruling in favor of Led Zeppelin as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals kept Judge Klausner’s decision.
The 9th Court of Appeals decision in favor of Led Zeppelin also overturned the “inverse ratio rule,” which states that the more likely it is for a piece of music to have been heard by anyone, the lower the bar needs to be for proving similarity to that work. One of the most notable copyright cases involving the “inverse ratio rule” had been the 2015 case involving Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”
“It was a terrible rule,” the attorney who filed an amicus brief in support of Led Zeppelin, Ed McPherson, said to Variety. “If you have a lot of access, that shouldn’t mean there should be a lesser standard to prove copyright infringement. It’s never made sense to me.”
The case had been taken to the Supreme Court back in August as another attempt to appeal, however with the Supreme Court declining to hear the case, the ruling that was in favor of Led Zeppelin remains.