Led Zeppelin Fights Claim|of ‘Systemic’ Plagiarism

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Jurors should hear evidence of Led Zeppelin’s “systematic plagiarism” as the legendary rock band fights claims that it copied part of another song for “Stairway to Heaven,” according to court papers filed Friday.
     Led Zeppelin’s frontman Robert Plant and guitarist Jimmy Page are challenging the allegations of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust trustee Michael Skidmore, who claimed in 2014 that “Stairway to Heaven” infringes on the song “Taurus,” created by Wolfe and his band Spirit in 1967.
     Four years later, “Stairway” appeared on Led Zeppelin’s fourth untitled album, also known as “Led Zeppelin IV.”
     The English rock legends had hoped to avoid a trial.
     But they could yet take the stand after a federal judge this month ruled that elements of “Stairway” are substantially similar to “Taurus” under United States copyright law.
     Even though the songs are more than 40 years old, the lawsuit survived a move by Zeppelin’s attorneys to rule that the suit is untimely after the court found that the remastered version of the track came out in 2014.
     Now in court papers filed late Friday, Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy urged U.S. District Judge Robert Gary Klausner to deny Led Zeppelin’s motion to exclude an “extensive and admitted history of copyright infringement and music theft.”
     According to the attorney’s 6-page filing, Page and Plant have both admitted that they copied other artists.
     “This course-of-conduct evidence should be admitted to demonstrate Led Zeppelin’s songwriting process and systematic and extensive use of plagiarism to ‘create’ music,” the April 15 opposition to the motion to exclude states.
     On seven occasions Led Zeppelin changed the credit on its songs because of court actions or legal threats, the opposition says. The tracks included “Dazed and Confused,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “How Many More Times,” “The Lemon Song,” “Bring it On Home,” and “When the Levee Breaks.”
     Led Zeppelin had copied music for their tracks close to 20 times, the filing adds, and there is “no other band in rock history who has been compelled to change the writing credits on its songs so many times.”
     To illustrate its argument, the opposition points to a 1985 NPR interview in which Plant appears to admit that the band had copied blues musician Willie Dixon.
     “I think when Willie Dixon turned on the radio in Chicago 20 years after he wrote his blues, he thought, ‘That’s my song [“Whole Lotta Love”] … When we ripped it off, I said to Jimmy, ‘Hey, that’s not our song.’ And he said, ‘Shut up and keep walking,'” Plant said, according to the filing.
     In another interview with the Guitar World, Page said Plant had failed to change lyrics from their original source and that’s what “‘brought on the most grief,'” the opposition says.
     “‘I always made sure to come up with some variation. In fact, I think in most cases, you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case — but in most cases,” Page said. “‘So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. And Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that — which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn’t get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.'”
     Skidmore’s attorney says that the court should allow the plaintiff to put on the evidence because the band’s “serial plagiarism” directly relates to how the band created music and, specifically, “Stairway to Heaven.”
     “This is not just one or two songs where defendants accidentally failed to credit other writers; it is an admitted and systematic plagiarism scheme that spanned the better part of a decade and one that is not credibly in dispute,” the filing states.
     But in court papers filed last month, Led Zeppelin’s attorneys argued that including the evidence would prejudice the jury by “offering evidence and argument that the individual defendants copied works other than ‘Taurus'” and called the evidence “irrelevant.”
     As Pharrell and Robert Thicke learned to their peril in last year’s “Blurred Lines” copyright case, recorded interviews and deposition testimony can come back to haunt you.
     Attorneys for Marvin Gaye family members in a lawsuit claiming that “Blurred Lines” ripped off Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” made much of the artists’ public statements, in which they had professed their admiration for the Motown hit and acknowledged its influence on “Blurred Lines.
     A jury eventually ruled in favor of the Gaye family and found Thicke and Pharrell liable for copyright infringement.
     Page and Plant’s counsel also want to exclude testimony as it relates to their drug and alcohol use during the 1960s and the following decade.
     The rockers claim they had never heard “Taurus.” But Skidmore says the band had ample access to the song having played with Spirit three times at concerts in Seattle, Denver, and Atlanta in the late 1960s.
     “Plaintiff has indicated that he intends to argue that the supposed reason all or some of the individual defendants testified that they never heard ‘Taurus’ until this claim is the adverse effects of drinking or drug use in the 1960s or later,” Page and Plant’s attorney Peter Anderson wrote in a March 25 filing. “Aside from the fact there is no evidence to support the accusation, plaintiff also failed to disclose any medical or other expert to opine as to the effects of supposed drinking or drug use. The testimony and argument is therefore irrelevant.”
     Klausner granted summary judgment to the other surviving band member John Paul Jones earlier this month. The band’s drummer Jon Bonham died in 1980 and the band disbanded shortly after.

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