Here’s why Led Zeppelin is being sued over ‘Stairway to Heaven’ 45 years later

Led zeppelin
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Led Zeppelin is going to court for a copyright infringement suit regarding their 1971 hit “Stairway to Heaven.”

The case against Led Zeppelin was filed by a trustee for the estate of Randy Wolfe, a member of the rock band Spirit, back in 2014.

The lawsuit claims that Led Zeppelin copied the introduction to Spirit’s 1968 song “Taurus.”

So why is this just hitting the courts now? Shouldn’t the staute of limitations be up?

Turns out, no. But by something like a technicality.

“They are legally allowed to bring it up now because Led Zeppelin reissued ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ so there was a new master recording created [and] they got around the statute of limitations that way,” Josh Kaplan, a lawyer and manager of musicians, told Business Insider.

The statute of limitations for copyright infringement says action must be taken “within three years after the claim accrued.”

The same court deciding this case awarded Marvin Gaye’s family more than $7 million in the “Blurred Lines” trial. That case is currently being appealed.

“I don’t think that this case is specific to that decision,” Kaplan said. “But I think [the ‘Blurred Lines’ case] muddied the waters from extending traditional copyright infringment from the infringement of notes to just the idea or influence.”

These cases are difficult because there is no strict guideline to follow, Kaplan added.

“There’s no test to what’s borrowing an idea versus straight up taking an idea,” he said. “You have to look at everything that’s surrounding it … [the judge] didn’t judge one way or another, he just said that there was enough there to survive the summary judgement or a motion to dismiss.”

Led Zeppelin has faced cases like these before for songs such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love.”

For more on the case, read this breakdown.

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