Copyright Must Read: SKIDMORE V. LED ZEPPELIN reversed, remanded for prejudicially erroneous Jury Instructions.

Hat tip to Joshua L. Simmons, Copyright Division Council Liaison from KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP in New York for keeping the #Copyright Bar up to date on important developments.

From this week’s news letter is the decision in Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin involving a claim by Michael Skidmore, a Trustee, alleging Led Zeppelin copied key portions of its timeless hit “Stairway to Heaven” from the song “Taurus.” At trial, the jury found in favor of the Defendants. Skidmore appealed on the grounds of alleged trial errors. He also disputed the district court’s determination that the scope of the copyright for unpublished works under the Copyright Act of 1909 (“1909 Act”) is defined by the deposit copy.

The appellate court made several key holdings. First, the failure to instruct the jury that the “selection and arrangement of unprotectable musical elements are protectable” was prejudicial error.  Second, a jury instruction incorrectly stated that copyright does not protect “chromatic scales, arpeggios or short sequences of three notes.” Third, a jury instruction on originality  incorrectly omitted a statement that “any elements from prior works or the public domain are not considered original parts and not protected by copyright.” “In copyright law, the ‘original’ part of a work need not be new or novel.”  Lastly, the district court must revisit the issue whether as a matter of law, that Skidmore’s “evidence as to proof of access is insufficient to trigger the inverse ratio rule.”

For more more information:

SKIDMORE V. LED ZEPPELIN
No. 16-56057, 16-56287, 2018 WL 4654729 (9th Cir. Sep. 28, 2018)

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