Intellectual Property Law Update - Skidmore v Led Zeppelin: who owns the Stairway to Heaven?

Intellectual Property
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I had never heard of the 1960s Californian psychedelic rock band Spirit until I came across this case. Spirit formed in 1967 and revolved around the teenage guitar prodigy Randy Wolfe.

Spirit released its debut album Spirit in January 1968, which broke the Billboard Top 40 chart and included a 2 minute 37 second instrumental titled Taurus, written by Wolfe when he was 15 and featuring an ethereal plucked guitar line and melody.

Meanwhile a new band was forming in London, out of the remnants of the Yardbirds, and performed its first show under the name Led Zeppelin on 25 October 1968.

Led Zeppelin's biggest hit ever, Stairway to Heaven, was recorded in London in December-January 1970-1, and was released on their fourth album in November 1971. Many fans and critics noticed the similarity between Taurus and Stairway to Heaven, focusing on the plucked guitar arpeggios in the opening of each song.

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Originally published in the Victorian Bar News, No. 160, 2016: 88-9.

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Ed Heerey QC practises in commercial law and is a specialist in intellectual property law

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