A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a verdict stipulating that Led Zeppelin did not lift the intro of Stairway to Heaven from a 1968 song “Taurus” by the band Spirit.
In doing so, the appellate also reversed the “inverse ratio rule” precedent, that has governed these types of cases for 43 years. The precedent states that to prove copyright infringement, the plaintiff must show that the defendant had access to the plaintiff’s work, and that the works were “substantially similar.” The more access, the less the plaintiff needed to prove the similarity of the work, leading to a number of hard-to-defend frivolous lawsuits as access to music has become near universal in the digital age.
“We have never extended copyright protection to just a few notes,” the court held. “Instead we have held that ‘a four-note sequence common in the music field’ is not the copyrightable expression in a song.”
The case began in 2014 when music journalist Michael Skidmore filed a lawsuit on behalf of the late frontman of the band Spirit. Judge for yourself: