Led Zeppelin ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Copyright Case Goes to Jury

June 22, 2016

The recollections of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant about events 45 years ago were questioned a final time before jurors were asked to decide who to believe about the genesis of the band’s classic “Stairway to Heaven.”

Plant and Page were accused of only remembering facts that were convenient to them during their testimony over whether they stole the opening chords of “Stairway” from a 1968 instrumental, “Taurus,” by a California band called Spirit.

Francis Malofiy, in his closing argument Wednesday in federal court in Los Angeles, told the jury that Page’s testimony that he never saw Spirit perform didn’t match what he said in interviews in the early 1970s about enjoying seeing the band. Malofiy also said the band changed its long-held story about Page and Plant coming up with the chords and first lyrics for “Stairway” at a cottage in Wales to minimize any resemblance to “Taurus.”

The eight jurors will need to decide whether Page and Plant had access to “Taurus” and whether there’s any substantial similarities between unique elements of the Spirit composition and “Stairway.”

Peter Anderson, the lawyer for Led Zeppelin, at the end of his closing argument played the jurors a mash-up of a 1963 folk song “To Catch a Shad” and “Taurus” to illustrate the point he made repeatedly during the trial — the descending chromatic scale found in “Taurus” and “Stairway” is exceedingly common in popular music and not subject to copyright protection.

‘Not Original’

“What is shared here is in the common domain,” Anderson said. “The descending chromatic scale belongs to anyone — it’s just a musical device, it’s not original.”

The case is brought by the administrator of the trust of the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, who wrote “Taurus” for his girlfriend. Malofiy told the jurors, before the judge interrupted him, that the trust had a fiduciary duty to pursue its claim following a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows for copyright infringement lawsuits after years of delay.

The trust can only seek damages for the three years proceeding the lawsuit. Malofiy also asked the jury to award Wolfe a one-third songwriting credit for “Stairway.”

The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, 15-cv-03462, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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