With a jury trial scheduled to begin in just over a month, Led Zeppelin, their music publisher and record label continue to feud with the estate of a founding member of the rock band Spirit over the allowance of expert depositions in a copyright infringement case surrounding the song “Stairway to Heaven.”
What lesson can music professionals glean from the Led Zeppelin team’s (expensive) legal battle?
Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
In May 2014, the trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust commenced a federal copyright infringement action against the living members of iconic rock band Led Zeppelin and related record companies and music publishers (collectively, “Defendants”).
The lawsuit alleges that the Defendants “lifted” their 1971 mega-hit “Stairway to Heaven” from Wolfe’s song “Taurus,” which the band Spirit released in 1968. The Trust notes that Led Zeppelin once opened for Spirit on tour and covered Spirit songs at concerts. The case is scheduled for trial this month in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Case No. 2:15-cv-03462-RGK-AGR).
Depositions and Discovery Cut-Off
The Court determined last month that four reports from the Trust’s music experts were inadmissible as originally submitted and required that they be refiled. When the Defendants contacted the Trust’s attorneys last month regarding deposing the music experts as to the four new reports that the Court allowed the Trust to submit, the Trust’s counsel took the position that no expert depositions could be taken after the Court-ordered discovery cut-off date of February 11, 2016.
This Monday, the Defendants asked the Court to order the Trust to produce its music experts next week for deposition. The Defendants point to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, which states that expert depositions cannot be taken until after expert reports are provided. The Trust’s attorneys continue to oppose allowing additional expert depositions.
Today’s music industry revolves around the exploitation, registration and enforcement of copyrights and other intellectual property. As the above-mentioned case demonstrates, music publishers, record labels and musicians accused of copyright infringement are at risk of incurring substantial liability – up to $150,000 per work infringed. As such, music publishers, record labels, music producers and musicians should speak with an experienced intellectual property and entertainment lawyer as early in the creative process as possible in order to minimize the risk of unexpected third-party copyright infringement claims.