While the appeal of a lawsuit filed by the estate of the late Spirit guitarist Randy California against Led Zeppelin is ongoing, the Department of Justice filed an amicus in support of a judge’s previous ruling that stated that the copyrights of musical compositions prior to 1972 were only protected as sheet music. It wasn't until 1972 that Congress changed the law to protect sound recordings as well.
The DOJ states, “There should be no serious dispute that the passages of 'Stairway to Heaven' and [Spirit's] 'Taurus' that are at issue here are not virtually identical. At a minimum, the notes and rhythm are not all, or even mostly, the same.”
As a result, the DOJ concludes that Zeppelin rightly prevailed in the previous trial under the pre-1972 copyright law.
But, despite this latest development, the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals still ordered a new trial Friday, continuing the five-year legal battle. The case will go before an appeals court in September.