District Court Leaves For Trial Question whether Ex-U.S. Profits of Stairway to Heaven may be Recovered in U.S. Copyright Action

The World in U.S. Courts: Summer and Fall 2016 - Intellectual Property – Copyright | June.29.2016

Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, April 8, 2016

This copyright infringement suit involves authorship of one of the iconic songs of Rock ‘n Roll:  Stairway to Heaven, written and recorded by the band Led Zeppelin.  The relevant issue for present purposes was the plaintiffs’ claim of damages based on revenues earned by Stairway to Heaven outside the U.S.

The District Court in Los Angeles stated that the Copyright Act did not cover “infringement” outside the U.S., but recited the familiar exception for courts in the Ninth Circuit that damages for U.S. infringement could include profits resulting from exploitation of the infringement in other countries.  Led Zeppelin argued that stairway to Heaven was written entirely outside the U.S., and so the exception did not apply.  Citing guitarist Jimmy Page’s testimony that an early version of the song had been mixed in the U.S., however, the Court concluded that the question whether there was U.S. infringement would have to be resolved at trial.

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