Led Zeppelin Lives On

The news today is flooded with articles detailing the result of the recent jury trial trial against the iconic band, Led Zeppelin. Briefly, the trustee for the late Randy Craig Wolfe, who wrote a song called Taurus in 1968, sued Led Zeppelin. Mr. Wolfe obtained a copyright on the song. The trust argued that Stairway to Heaven infringed on that copyright and therefore Led Zeppelin was liable for damages. Today, the jury returned a verdict in Led Zeppelin's favor.

Copyright law is fairly specialized and doesn't directly impact many clients. However, the case is interesting for several reasons. First, Stairway to Heaven is a classic, having been released in 1971. Today's verdict came as a result of a lawsuit filed just a few years ago, which seemingly doesn't make a lot of sense. But, copyright law has significantly longer statutes of limitations than many other claims. Thus, although the original song was written in 1968 and its songwriter died in 1997, his trust still had a legal right to bring the lawsuit when it did.

Second, this case is interesting from a trial strategy perspective. The original copyright was filed as written sheet music, which meant that the two sides were permitted to perform music for the jury playing from the sheet music. The trust used a guitar. Led Zeppelin used a piano. I imagine the attorneys and musicians deliberated over which presentation of the evidence most favored their client's case.

And third, from a non-lawyer perspective I found it interesting that a simple search on YouTube shows numerous clips comparing the two songs, some involving detailed analysis of the music. Listen and draw your own conclusion.

This Case and outcome further highlight the importance of protecting your legal rights both at the outset and in a timely fashion.