LOS ANGELES (CN) – Attorneys on Wednesday morning made their final pitches in a short but grueling trial to determine writing credits and royalties for “Stairway to Heaven” before a judge handed the case to a federal jury to decide.
An attorney for Jimmy Page and Robert Plant and the lawyer for plaintiff Michael Skidmore offered their interpretations of testimony that jurors have heard over roughly four and a half days of the closely watched copyright infringement trial in a small downtown Los Angeles courtroom.
Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy returned to a theme from his opening statement. He told the eight members of the jury to look past Plant and Page’s undeniably “amazing” qualities as musicians and songwriters and give a nod to the man he says has a right to claim a co-credit on “Stairway to Heaven” – Randy Wolfe, aka Randy California.
It was California who created the instrumental “Taurus” that later appeared on LA progressive rockers Spirit’s debut 1968 album. Skidmore, who became trust of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust after California died in the 1990s, brought the plagiarism case against Led Zeppelin in 2014.
He claimed that the famous two-minute and 14-second introduction from one of the most recognizable songs in rock borrows heavily from California’s lesser-known work.
In his closing statement, Malofiy asked the jury to treat California like another member of Led Zeppelin and award him a one-third credit to the song with Page and Plant.
Revenue from “Stairway to Heaven” remained as tantalizingly out of reach as ever. Malofiy cut the difference on economic damages, asking the jury to award an amount that is somewhere between the $58.5 million in recent gross revenue for music that included Led Zeppelin’s 87-song catalog, and close to $7 million in revenue from “Stairway to Heaven” alone.
Those numbers apply to a statutory period that began on May 31, 2011, three years before Skidmore filed suit, but they have been hotly contested by Page and Plant during the trial. Their attorney Peter Anderson told jurors that record company profits for “Stairway” after deductions were closer to $800,000.
“They just threw the whole catalog at you,” Anderson said of Malofiy’s numbers.
During rebuttal, Maloify hit back at Page and Plant for failing to put on their own economic expert, though British accountant Tim Gardner testified for the duo on Tuesday that Page’s gross revenues from “Stairway to Heaven” before tax were $615,000 and Plant’s were $532,000.
Malofiy focused much of his argument on whether or not Page and Plant had heard “Taurus” before Page created “Stairway to Heaven” – the key to establishing “access” under copyright law.
During the trial, Malofiy put on witnesses who said that Led Zeppelin shared the same bill as Spirit during the bands’ early shows in the U.S. during the late 1960s. The attorney also pointed to radio and press interviews in which Page expresses his admiration for the band.
Perhaps the strongest indicator of access, at least from Skidmore’s point of view, came from Page’s collection of 4,329 albums and 5,882 CDs. Page testified last week that he had sifted through his collection and found several Spirit records, including the band’s 1968 debut.
Page said, however, 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.
Led Zeppelin’s two other surviving members, bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones and Plant also claimed that they did not recall seeing Spirit live and had never owned any of their albums or singles.
The court heard testimony that Plant went to see Spirit at the Mothers Club in Birmingham in early 1970 and had played snooker with the band afterwards.
But the frontman said on Tuesday that he had no recollection of meeting or watching the band at a club he had gone to regularly with his wife and late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham.
“I can’t actually recall Spirit or anyone playing there with the passing of time,” Plant said.
But in his closing, Malofiy said the duo had a “deep admiration” and “respect” for Spirit, but were now selectively “misremembering” key facts and events.
“This is about a six-letter word, credit,” Malofiy said at the beginning of his closing. “Give credit where credit is due. This case has always been about credit.”
But Anderson insisted the jury should decide the case in Page and Plant’s favor.
“He promised you six words. He delivered you only five,” Anderson said.
The attorney said that Skidmore had failed to show that any member of Led Zeppelin had ever heard “Taurus” and said that Plant’s appearance at the Mothers Club was irrelevant because not one witness has said that the Spirit instrumental was part of the setlist.
“If ‘Taurus’ wasn’t played, why are we talking about it?” Anderson said. “There’s no evidence that ‘Taurus’ was ever played in the presence of these gentlemen.”
The jury of four women and four men must also determine if “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” are substantially similar.
But Anderson said the introductions to “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” use a commonplace descending chromatic line that has “existed for hundreds of years” and is evident in numerous 21st Century pop songs including, “My Funny Valentine” and The Beatles’ “Michelle.”
“I don’t have to say [California] copied it from ‘Michelle.’ It belongs to everyone. It’s a musical device,” Anderson said.
Malofiy told jurors, however, that California’s guitar part was “unique” and that only two songs “in history” had skipped the E note that is common in chromatic descending lines — “Taurus” and “Stairway.”
Interest in the case has been high, with members of the media and public forming a line before the court opens at 7 a.m. to secure a coveted seat in U.S. District Judge Robert Gary Klausner’s courtroom at the Edward Roybal Courthouse.
Jurors began deliberating on Wednesday morning after Klausner delivered jury instructions. Deliberations were scheduled for the rest of the day.
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