The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the long-running copyright battle over Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” leaving in place a ruling that rejected infringement allegations over the 1971 song.
The justices denied a petition aimed at reviving the case, ending six years of litigation over claims that the song’s writers, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, plagiarized the song’s iconic intro from the 1968 song “Taurus” by the group Spirit.
The decision follows a March victory for the group in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict finding the song did not infringe on “Taurus.”
Journalist Michael Skidmore filed the suit in 2014, on behalf of the estate of Randy Wolfe, the late Spirit frontman. After losing at trial, Skidmore appealed to the 9th Circuit.
The appeals court’s en banc ruling marked a win for the music industry, which had felt besieged by frivolous copyright suits since the “Blurred Lines” trial in 2015. The appeals court overturned the so-called “inverse ratio rule,” a standard that set a lower bar for similarity if plaintiffs could prove a higher level of access to the infringed work.
The 9th Circuit also made it harder to claim infringement based on a “selection and arrangement” of unprotectable musical elements. Finally, the ruling expressed skepticism about claims based on just a handful of notes.
Skidmore appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the 9th Circuit’s decision was unfairly tilted against plaintiffs, and in favor of the industry.
“The ‘Court of Appeals for the Hollywood Circuit’ has finally given Hollywood exactly what it has always wanted: a copyright test which it cannot lose,” Skidmore’s attorneys argued. “The effect of this ruling is a gift to the industry, a disaster for independent artists, and spells the end of any real copyright protection for musical works.”
Skidmore’s lawyers also argued that the jury verdict was flawed because the jurors did not have access to the album recording of “Taurus,” and instead had to rely solely on the sheet music deposited with the U.S. Copyright Office. The 9th Circuit held that the judge had correctly applied the 1909 Copyright Act, which did not protect song recordings.
The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal without comment.