Led Zeppelin Ask Judge to Decide ‘Stairway’ Case

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on Monday asked a judge rather than a jury to decide the copyright trial over “Stairway to Heaven,” arguing their accuser hasn’t proven multiple elements of his case.
     In a motion for judgment as a matter of law, Led Zeppelin members Page and Plant say that during the four days of trial so far, former rock journalist Michael Skidmore, who sued the music duo in 2014, failed to establish ownership of “Taurus,” the 1967 Spirit song at the center of his copyright infringement lawsuit.
     Instead, ownership of the instrumental “Taurus” belongs to Lou Adler’s Hollenbeck Music, the pair say. Jurors have heard that Spirit guitarist and songwriter Randy Wolfe, better known as Randy California, signed over rights to “Taurus” when he was 16 years old.
     In a contentious moment during the trial, Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy showed the court what he said was proof of Skidmore’s 1996 registration of the copyright in “Taurus” by submitting to the court a printout of a summary of the 1996 renewal registration from the U.S. Copyright Office’s website.
     “Skidmore, however, never submitted any copy, certified or otherwise, of the 1967 registration of copyright in the ‘Taurus’ musical composition or the 1996 claimed renewal of that registration,” Page and Plant’s memorandum of points and authorities states.
     Because of that failure, Skidmore, who sued on behalf of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, cannot make copyright infringement claims against the rock legends, Monday’s filing says.
     Whether Page and Plant had heard “Taurus” before they created “Stairway to Heaven” at Headley Grange in Hampshire, England prior to releasing it on their untitled 1971 album, better known as “Led Zeppelin IV,” is a matter of debate.
     In their latest court filing, the duo says that before Skidmore rested his case on Friday, he did not demonstrate to the jury that Led Zeppelin had heard the song after the plaintiff put on witness testimony from California’s younger sister Janet Wolfe and former Spirit band members.
     So far, surviving Led Zeppelin members Page and John Paul Jones have taken the stand to testify in the closely watched case. Page said that he did not hear “Taurus” until a comparison between the two tracks surfaced online.
     “Something like that would stick in my mind. It was totally alien to me,” Page said of the song.
     Page also testified that he had found the 1968 Spirit album that included “Taurus” in his collection of 4,329 albums and 5,882 CDs.
     Malofiy has sought to beat that admission over Page’s head again and again, frequently referring to the guitarist as one of Spirit’s “biggest fans.”
     “Access is so clearly established it’s almost laughable,” Malofiy told reporters after Page testified last week. “I mean there’s no doubt he’s probably one of the biggest fans.”
     Jones testified on Friday that he had not heard “Taurus,” did not own any of the band’s singles or albums and doesn’t recall playing with Spirit in the late 1960s.
     Skidmore says, however, that Led Zeppelin was on the same bill as Spirit during the English band’s early days and that Plant attended a Spirit show at the Mothers Club in Birmingham, England.
     But in their Monday filing, Page and Plant say that there is “no evidence” the guitarist owned the Spirit album 45 years ago and that evidence showing they heard “Taurus” during shows is speculative.
     Establishing access represented the first part of Skidmore’s case. The second part was to show there are striking or substantial similarities between the two-minute, 14-second guitar introduction to “Stairway to Heaven” and the “Taurus” sheet music deposited at the copyright office.
     On that point, Skidmore, who has been present for the duration of the trial, has failed to prove his claims because his two experts, musician Kevin Hanson and musicologist Alexander Stewart, “both admitted they did not disregard commonplace elements,” according to Page and Plant.
     The commonplace elements include the descending chromatic lines in both songs that Plant and Page’s musicologist Lawrence Ferrara said were “generic” and “commonplace” and had existed for 300 years. Ferrara also testified that there were multiple examples of 20th Century pop songs that used the musical device, including “Michelle” by The Beatles.
     Even if presiding federal judge Robert Gary Klausner does not grant the motion, the duo says that Skidmore’s economist Michael Einhorn did not offer an opinion of actual damages and that Skidmore did not make clear how much Page, Plant, and their record companies had made in relation to “Stairway to Heaven.”
     Einhorn testified on Friday that a catalog of 87 songs, including “Stairway to Heaven,” had earned over $58.5 million since a statutory period that began in the summer of 2011.
     “Plaintiff rested and failed to carry his burden of proof on multiple issues. Accordingly, judgment should be entered in defendants’ favor. At a minimum, judgment should be entered in their favor on plaintiff’s claims for actual damages and for profits,” the 11-page court filing states.
     Providing Klausner does not grant the motion, Plant is expected to testify for the defense this week at the Edward Roybal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles. Page and Plant have been present for every day of the trial.
     Neither Malofiy nor Page and Plant’s attorney Peter Anderson immediately responded to emailed requests for comment on Monday.

%d bloggers like this: