Musical Copyright in the US

In 2016 a Los Angeles Court handed down a decision that the rock n’ roll band Led Zeppelin did not breach copyright in their 1971 song ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The song, being arguably their most famous and iconic song, was alleged to have copied the famous flat-picked arpeggio chord progression from a lesser known song – ‘Spirit’ by Taurus. Led Zeppelin argued that the chord progression was so common, that it had been used for hundreds of years, and it was a matter of coincidence that they sounded similar. The jury agreed and the legacy of the song remained.

Musical Copyright in Australia

This case brings to mind another case involving an iconic Australian song, a mainstay of the local pub sing-along, ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work.

In February 2010, the Federal Court of Australia found that the song impeded on the copyright of another iconic Australian song ‘Kookaburra’. Throughout ‘Down Under’ a flute riff is played, which contained the same harmony and notes as ‘Kookaburra’. Men at Work claimed that it was a coincidence, and they did not have the intention of copying the melody. The Court disagreed and found that the melody of ‘Kookaburra’ and the flute riff played during ‘Down Under’ were substantially similar.

How Do You Establish Copyright?

The test for establishing copyright involves two stages:

  1. Is there a substantial resemblance between the infringing work and the copyrighted work?
  2. Is there a causal connection between the two works?

If these two steps have been satisfied, question then turns to the value of what is taken, rather than the amount. To determine this the court will consider the facts around the alleged infringement.

Get Legal Advice

The circumstances particular to a case is something that would be best discussed with a solicitor, as they will be able to gauge the likelihood of your claim succeeding.

If you suspect that a work you have created has been infringed upon, then it is important to contact a solicitor that knows about copyright law and understands the balance between concept of artistic freedom, and on protecting the rights of an artist. To speak with one of our friendly solicitors please get in touch with us on 9963 9800 or via our contact page.