CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: Grillo's Pickles

If you haven't been to the Grillo's Pickles website, you should. There, you'll find the fantastic story of how this company began. We've copied part of it here to save you a click.

Grillo's Pickles began with a pickle cart, just a small wooden stand in downtown Boston, where Travis Grillo and his friends would sell two spears for one dollar. Travis would make the pickles by night using his family's 100-year old recipe - one he'd memorized from making pickles every summer as a kid. In the morning, Travis would bike to the Boston Common and set up the cart with his buddies. They'd hang out all day, urging people to try the simple Grillo family pickle. It was a small business but Travis worked hard for it. He made more pickles, biked more miles, and slept less hours than he ever had before.
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CLIENT SPOTLIGHT: Factory Five Racing

Factory Five Racing was founded in 1995. Over the years they have grown from a start-up business in a small garage to become the world's largest manufacturer of "build-it-yourself" component car kits. They employ a full-time crew of about 40 people, and are located in Wareham, Massachusetts (about an hour south of Boston). They make their products right here in the USA, in the heart of New England where American manufacturing was born.
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Fred and Danny Magnanimi grew up watching their father create beautiful, handcrafted jewelry in the family's Cranston, RI jewelry manufacturing business. When the boys grew up, Fred moved to New York and began working on Wall Street as an investment banker, while younger brother Danny, still enamored by the family business, stayed home. Increased competition from overseas businesses created significant challenges for the business, but Danny was confident he could find a way for the family business to evolve and thrive. This was his mission, this was his passion.
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        Did Led Zeppelin Steal the Stairway to Heaven?

        Did Led Zeppelin copy the opening of its iconic song “Stairway to Heaven” from a lesser-known band?  A jury in California will decide in May whether the song copied elements of “Taurus,” a 1967 instrumental track from the band Spirit.

        Written in 1971, “Stairway to Heaven” is arguably the best known rock song of all time.  As of 2000, the song had been broadcast on radio over three million times.  It is also the biggest-selling single piece of sheet music in rock history.  For decades, the song has been a staple at weddings and high school proms.

        Last week, a federal judge ruled that there is enough similarity between the opening of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” to allow the case to be decided by a jury.  As a result, the plaintiff, a Trust for the benefit of the heirs of Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who died in 1997, will get an opportunity to try to prove that Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page, the authors of “Stairway to Heaven,” copied at least some parts of the song from “Taurus.”

        In order to prevail, the plaintiff does not have to show that Plant and Page intentionally copied “Taurus.”  Instead, copyright law permits the plaintiff to establish copying with circumstantial evidence, by showing that Led Zeppelin had access to, or knew of, “Taurus,” and that “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” are “substantially similar.”

        So far the Trust has no direct evidence that Plant or Page ever heard “Taurus” before writing “Stairway to Heaven.”  But the Trust has provided evidence that both bands performed at the same music festival on the same day three times between the release of “Taurus” in 1967 and the release of “Stairway to Heaven” in 1971.  At two of these concerts, the groups performed back-to-back.  The plaintiff also had testimony that Spirit regularly performed “Taurus” at its shows, although Led Zeppelin disputed this fact and produced a set list from one show where “Taurus” was not listed.  The federal judge found that this was sufficient circumstantial evidence to let the jury decide whether Plant and Page had access to “Taurus” before writing “Stairway to Heaven.”  

        The judge also found there is enough evidence that the jury should decide whether there is “substantial similarity” between the two songs under the copyright law.  This “substantial similarity” test is used in all copyright infringement disputes, but is more difficult to apply in music cases because the same chord progressions are used in many different songs over decades.  Copyright law does not protect “standard, stock or common” expressions, whether in words or in music. 

        Here, the judge found that both songs have a repeated A-minor descending chromatic bass line lasting 13 seconds and separated by a bridge of either seven or eight measures, and that the similarity appears in the opening two minutes of each song.    While the judge found that “a descending chromatic four chord progression is a common convention that abounds in the music industry,” the judge also found that there are enough other similarities for a jury to decide whether the two songs are “substantially similar.”

        A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2014 paved the way for these types of music copyright infringement lawsuits.  In that case, involving the movie Raging Bull, the Court held that there are no time limits on bringing copyright infringement suits, but that damages can only be awarded for future infringements and for infringements that occurred in the three years before the suit was filed.  In March 2016, a jury awarded singer Marvin Gaye’s children nearly $7.4 million (later reduced to $5.2 million) after determining singers Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams copied Gaye’s 1977 song “Got To Give It Up” when they wrote the 2013 hit song “Blurred Lines.”   

        Although the Trust prevailed in federal court last week, it still faces a number of hurdles in its trial, including:
        • Wolfe gave interviews in 1991 where he commented that it was “fine” that Led Zeppelin used “Taurus” and that “I’ll let [Led Zeppelin] have the beginning of “Taurus” for their song without a lawsuit.”
        • There is some conflicting evidence as to whether Wolfe gave up his copyright in the song to his music publishing company.  If the jury finds that he did give up his rights, then the Trust has no copyright to enforce in this lawsuit.
        • The copyright covers only the sheet music composition of “Taurus,” not the recorded version.  The jury may not hear the performance elements in the recorded version of “Taurus” which definitely add to the similarities of the two songs.
        • Even if successful, the Trust will only be able to recover damages for infringements since 2011, not since 1971 when “Stairway to Heaven” was written and first performed.

        Did Plant and Page copy or borrow from “Taurus?”  It makes me wonder. 

        Here are the links to both songs:
        -Stairway to Heaven