John Paul Jones Testifies in “Stairway” Trial

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – John Paul Jones testified in the high-profile “Stairway to Heaven” copyright case Friday during a trial to decide if Led Zeppelin plagiarized the song’s introduction from another songwriter.
     There was an audible “ooh” from spectators as Jones entered the packed downtown courtroom to take the stand, dressed in a dark suit, blue shirt and tie.
     As the former Led Zeppelin bassist and keyboardist was sworn in, the other surviving Led Zeppelin members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page watched from their attorneys’ table.
     The band has been in court for four days to defend against former rock journalist Michael Skidmore, who sued the rock legends on behalf of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust two years ago, claiming that they had copied the two-minute-and-14-second guitar introduction for their classic song “Stairway to Heaven” from Randy Wolfe’s instrumental song, “Taurus,” which appeared on the progressive rock band Spirit’s 1968 debut album.
     Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California, was singer and guitarist for Spirit and wrote “Taurus.” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was released as a track on their untitled 1971 album, better known as “Led Zeppelin IV.”
     According to Skidmore, Page and Plant were influenced by the song when they wrote “Stairway to Heaven,” having played several U.S. shows with the band in the late ’60s.
     During the trial, the jury has heard evidence that Page has several Spirit albums in his collection of 10,000 CDs and albums.
     Jones, who was dismissed as a defendant in the case earlier this year, spoke softly into the microphone as he answered questions from Page and Plant’s attorney Peter Anderson. At one point, U.S. District Judge Robert Gary Klausner had to ask him to speak up.
     Jones, whose real name is John Baldwin, said that he did not recall playing with Spirit when Led Zeppelin opened for the band Vanilla Fudge in Denver in the late-1960s and only learned they were on the bill after the lawsuit was filed.
     He also testified that he did not own any Spirit records or singles and did not recall ever meeting California.
     In an attempt to persuade the jury that the band had access to the song they are accused of copying, Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy has frequently mentioned to the court that Jones had played a bass part from a Spirit song called “Fresh Garbage.”
     But Jones said he did not remember where he heard the two-part bass riff that was incorporated into a song that Led Zeppelin played live at its shows.
     “I didn’t know who it was or what it was,” Jones said, adding that he could only remember that it was “quirky” and “caught my ear.”
     Jones recalled how he joined Led Zeppelin after his wife had urged him to call Page when she read the guitarist was forming another band.
     The musician said that after he asked Page if he needed a bass player: “He went, ‘Yeah.'”
     He recalled how the band had toured in a car during their early days.
     “The plane came later. It was a big reward,” he said.
     Jones’s brief testimony concluded Friday afternoon.
     In the morning, Skidmore’s damages expert Michael Einhorn had said he reviewed 50,000 financial documents that Page and Plant handed over and concluded that “Stairway to Heaven” was part of a catalog of songs that had earned $58.5 million in the past five years.
     His valuation of “Stairway to Heaven” revenue was based on a statutory period that began on May 31, 2011, three years before Skidmore filed suit, and included all revenue up until the present.
     According to the expert, record labels Atlantic and Rhino Entertainment had earned $13.5 million in gross revenues from the catalog, Page and Plant received $15 million from a deal they penned with Rhino and Atlantic, and another $30 million in revenue came from publishing.
     Page and Plant’s attorney, Peter Anderson, objected to Einhorn’s valuation because he said that the expert was relying on a publishing agreement created in 2008 that is outside the statute of limitations period.
     Skidmore rested his case after Einhorn concluded his testimony.
     The defense first called musicologist Lawrence Ferrara, who said that the descending chromatic bass line that forms the basis of Skidmore’s claims was “generic” and “commonplace.”
     Anderson told jurors during his opening argument earlier this week that the section of the sheet music that was deposited with the U.S. Copyright Office in 1967 cannot be protected under copyright law because it has existed for centuries and in several pop songs written before “Taurus,” including the Beatles’s “Michelle.”
     The jury trial is expected to conclude next week.

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