Law School Case Brief
Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin - No. CV 15-3462 RGK (AGRx), 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51006 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 8, 2016)
While laches is unavailable as a defense to a copyright action seeking damages, the role of laches in copyright actions seeking equitable relief may be available
In the late 1960s, two competing bands, Spirit and Led Zeppelin, released recordings of two songs, Taurus and Stairway to Heaven, respectively. Michael Skidmore, as trustee for the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust , filed suit against Led Zeppelin, individual members of the band, Super Hype Publishing, Inc., and Warner Music Group Corp., the parent company of Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., Atlantic Recording Corporation, and Rhino Entertainment Company, for Copyright Infringement and Violation of the Right of Attribution claiming that Defendants' song, Stairway to Heaven, infringed another song, Taurus, created by the rock band Spirit. Randy Craig Wolfe was reportedly the songwriter. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the basis for laches.
Was the copyright claim barred by laches?
In 2014, defendants released a new, remastered version of Stairway to Heaven, and Plaintiff Trustee brought suit within the three-year retrospective statute of limitations, alleging that each infringing act starts a new limitations period. The district court held that, regardless of Plaintiff's delay in bringing the action, as long as Defendants committed an infringing act within the three years preceding suit, laches does not prohibit Plaintiff's claim for damages. However, the Court also granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to the Right of Attribution claim and as to all claims against three of the Defendants. The Court also granted Defendants' request to limit Plaintiff's damages to 50% of the recovery to his share as a beneficial owner. The Court, however, denied Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to the Copyright Infringement claim against the remaining Defendants.
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