The panel vacated in part the district court’s judgment after a jury trial in favor of the defendants and remanded for a new trial in a copyright infringement suit alleging that Led Zeppelin copied “Stairway to Heaven” from the song “Taurus,” written by Spirit band member Randy Wolfe.
The jury found that plaintiff Michael Skidmore owned the copyright to “Taurus,” that defendants had access to “Taurus,” and that the two songs were not substantially similar under the extrinsic test.
The panel held that certain of the district court’s jury instructions were erroneous and prejudicial. First, in connection with the extrinsic test for substantial similarity, the district court prejudicially erred by failing to instruct the jury that the selection and arrangement of unprotectable musical elements are protectable. Second, the district court prejudicially erred in its instructions on originality. The panel concluded that the district court did not err in failing to instruct the jury on the inverse ratio rule, but such an instruction might be appropriate on remand.
The panel further held that the scope of copyright protection for an unpublished musical work under the Copyright Act of 1909 is defined by the deposit copy because copyright protection under the 1909 Act did not attach until either publication or registration. Therefore, the district court correctly ruled that sound recordings of “Taurus” as performed by Spirit could not be used to prove substantial similarity.
Addressing evidentiary issues, the panel held that the district court abused its discretion by not allowing recordings of “Taurus” to be played for the purpose of demonstrating access. The district court did not abuse its discretion by failing to exclude expert testimony on the basis of a conflict of interest.
In light of its disposition, the panel vacated the district court’s denial of defendants’ motions for attorneys’ fees and costs and remanded those issues as well.