Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin
United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
952 F.3d 1051 (2020)
In 2014 Michael Skidmore (plaintiff), a cotrustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, filed an action in federal district court against the rock band Led Zeppelin (defendant). Skidmore claimed that Led Zeppelin had engaged in copyright infringement in producing their song entitled “Stairway to Heaven” by copying portions of Wolfe’s song entitled “Taurus.” The district court held a trial. The court instructed the jury that copyright protection applied only to original work, which did not include common musical elements such as short sequences of notes or common scales. The court further instructed the jury that original work was work that was not copied and required some creativity on the part of the author. Based on the evidence introduced, the jury determined that Skidmore owned the copyright to “Taurus” and that Led Zeppelin had access to “Taurus.” However, the jury returned a verdict in Led Zeppelin’s favor on the ground that the two songs were not substantially similar, because the protected copyright material in “Taurus” was not objectively similar to the musical elements in “Stairway to Heaven.” Skidmore appealed from the judgment on multiple grounds, including that the jury instructions were improper. Additionally, Skidmore argued that the jury should have been instructed that copyright infringement may be found if two works share elements unprotected by copyright. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered the case.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (McKeown, J.)
Concurrence (Watford, J.)
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