Artist News Legal

Wolfe estate throws one last punch in Stairway case: requests a Supreme Court rethink

By | Published on Tuesday 3 November 2020

Led Zeppelin

The long-running saga regarding the song-theft claims made against Led Zeppelin over ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is basically over. Although we do have an epilogue. An epilogue which might just lead to a sequel. I mean, probably not. But it could. Legal reps for the Randy Wolfe estate have formally asked the US Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to not hear the ‘Stairway To Heaven’ legal battle.

The estate of the late Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California, sued Led Zeppelin in 2014 claiming that the band’s 1971 track ‘Stairway To Heaven’ ripped off an earlier song called ‘Taurus’, which Wolfe had written for his band Spirit. The case then went before a jury in 2016 who ruled that the two songs were not – in fact – similar enough to constitute copyright infringement.

The Wolfe estate then took the matter to the Ninth Circuit appeals court criticising various decisions made by the judge in the original jury trial. The appeals court initially concurred with the estate and ordered a retrial. But then it reconsidered the matter en banc – with more judges involved – and that time decided that the original ruling in Led Zep’s favour should stand.

So the estate’s lawyers marched up to the Supreme Court asking the judges there to intervene, arguing that precedents set in the Ninth Circuit ruling on the dispute were “a disaster for the creatives whose talent is often preyed upon”. However, last month the Supreme Court formally declined to consider the case, meaning that the Ninth Circuit ruling in Led Zep’s favour stands.

That’s technically the end of it, except the Wolfe estate has one last option to pursue, which is basically to petition the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision not to consider the case.

Even the lawyer repping the estate, Francis Malofiy, admitted that the prospect of getting the Supreme Court to reconsider was “against all odds”. However, he told Law360 yesterday: “[We] still have one last punch to throw and we are throwing it”.

The estate’s filing with the Supreme Court on Friday makes similarly bold statements to its original petition to the highest court in the land. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling heralds the “death of music copyright”, it states.

“Copyright law is meant to protect the creatives who create, not the industry who takes”, it goes on. The “death of music copyright” line, it then adds, “is not a hyperbolic warning, but a fact unless this court grants review”.

“The reformulation of the copyright test by the Ninth Circuit essentially gives the unscrupulous a licence to steal and commit plagiarism”, it argues. “These changes to the law were heavily lobbied for by the recording industry for years, an industry which dominated the amici briefing before the Ninth Circuit (often referred to as the Hollywood Circuit because it is hostile to creatives)”.

It seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will have a rethink, but still, we’ll get one more song out of this when I finally get round to writing ‘Led Zeppelin Thieved My Music: The Opera’.