The 1960's US rock band Spirit is suing members of the seminal British rock band Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement of their most famous hit "Stairway to Heaven" and an injunction against the release of album Led Zeppelin IV which features the track.

It is alleged that the opening instrumental of "Stairway to Heaven" was incorporated into the song after Led Zeppelin heard Spirit's song "Taurus" whilst the bands toured together between 1968 and 1969.

In its defence Led Zeppelin have argued that the composition in question is a “descending chromatic scale of pitches” so conventional that it does not warrant protection, coined the "Mary Poppin's defence".

In the course of proceedings Spirit affirmed knowledge of the alleged infringement for several decades prior to the commencement of this action, during which time it failed to bring a claim.

Until the US Supreme Court's decision in Petrella v Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc this would have provided Led Zeppelin with an absolute defence called laches* to any legal and equitable claims by Spirit of this nature.

However, in 2014 the Supreme Court found that that laches cannot bar legal claims for actual damages or profits arising out of alleged copyright infringement.

The case is currently ongoing and we will be awaiting the outcome with interest.

* Definition of laches from case law: “Sometimes laches is taken to mean undue delay on the part of the plaintiff in prosecuting his claim and no more. Sometimes acquiescence is used to mean laches in that sense. And sometimes laches is used to mean acquiescence in its proper sense, which involves a standing by so as to induce the other party to believe that the wrong is assented to. In that sense it has been observed that acquiescence can bear a close resemblance to promissory estoppel..” (Goldsworthy v. Brickell [1987] Ch 378, 410A-C)

Click here to read more: Jury rules in favour of Led Zeppelin


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