I always get nervous when appellate Judges start throwing around terms like “descending chromatic scales.” The underpinnings of music theory are complex, and not easily understood by people who are not musicians. This decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals shows the problems that can result.

On September 28, 2018, the Court reversed the jury verdict in favor of Led Zeppelin on the controversy of whether the iconic song “Stairway to Heaven” was copied from the song “Taurus” by the band Spirit, and composed by Randy Wolfe. 1 According to the Court, the District Court made a significant error in its jury instructions that “could have led the jury to believe that even if a series of three notes or a descending chromatic scale were used in combination with other elements in an original manner, it would not warrant copyright protection.” 2


“[T]he instructions undermined [Plantiff’s] expert testimony that “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” were similar because of the combination of otherwise unprotectable (sic) elements.” 3

I’m afraid those “blurred lines” are about to get blurrier.

Read on. This is a great deconstruction.