The overturning of Led Zeppelin's win in the 'Stairway To Heaven' case has sparked new debate
Both sides in the legal dispute over Ed Sheeran’s hit, ‘Thinking Out Loud’, have filed court documents to back up arguments in a lawsuit that accuses the singer of plagiarising Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’.
Sheeran, who is reportedly being sued $100 million by Structured Asset Sales in a separate 2018 lawsuit concerning the same songs, is also being sued by the heirs of Ed Townsend, Gaye’s co-writer and co-producer on the 1973 soul classic.
In the latter case, lodged in 2016, both the Sheeran and Townsend legal teams have now explained why an appeals court judgement in the Led Zeppelin ‘Stairway To Heaven’ dispute last month needs to be considered [via CMU].
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A few months before the Townsend family went legal in 2016, Led Zeppelin successfully defeated another US-based copyright lawsuit that claimed that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ ripped-off Spirit’s ‘Taurus’.
The Led Zeppelin case appeared to reestablish a point under US law that says that copyright only protects songs as they are submitted to America’s Copyright Office. This refers to the sheet music that would have been submitted when the copyright was registered, which applies to older songs like ‘Let’s Get It On’. Therefore, any extra elements added to the song when it was recorded are not protected by the song copyright.
Referring to the above case, Sheeran’s laywers wrote in their recent court filing: “[The appeals court] ruled that ‘the deposit copy of [the plaintiff’s work], rather than a sound recording, defined the scope of the protectable copyright’. In doing so, the Ninth Circuit addressed and rejected several of the arguments that plaintiffs made in this case … regarding the proper scope of copyright”.
This technicality limits copyright protection of the earlier work, and thus could strengthen Sheeran’s team’s argument.
However, in the aforementioned case – initially won by the Zeppelin side – the appeals court overturned the ruling as a result of the original judge’s various errors. That lawsuit will be heard again.
Despite noting the overruling, Sheeran’s lawyers now argue that remarks made in the appeals court judgement still favour them.
Meanwhile, the Townsend side has responded with their own legal filing, arguing their side of the copyright limitation point and contending that the lawsuit must go before a jury.