Led Zeppelin Prevail in ‘Stairway’ Copyright Trial

           LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal jury on Thursday found in favor of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant for claims they lifted the guitar introduction from “Stairway to Heaven” from a little-known progressive rock song from the late 1960s.
     The jury began deliberations on Wednesday morning after attorneys for both parties capped the end of a six-day trial with closing arguments.
     Page and Plant were present for every day of the trial in U.S. District Judge Robert Gary Klausner’s courtroom to defend against the claims of former British rock journalist Michael Skidmore, who sued the music duo in 2014, more than 40 years after “Stairway” was released.
     Skidmore alleged that Led Zeppelin had lifted the introduction from “Taurus,” a 1968 Spirit song, for the two-minute and 14-second guitar introduction of their almost eight-minute rock epic.
     The jury of four men and four women found that Page and Plant had heard “Taurus” before they created “Stairway to Heaven” – a key component of the case – and that Skidmore had a valid copyright in “Taurus.”
     But after jumping those hurdles, Skidmore fell on the fourth question asked of the jury. That was whether he had shown by a preponderance of the evidence that original elements of “Taurus” were “extrinsically” similar to “Stairway.”
     The jury answered “no,” delivering a victory to the legendary rock duo. Page and Plant were both dressed in suits with their hair tied back and they sat at their counsel’s table as the court clerk read out the jury’s verdict. They did not react when they heard the ruling in their favor.
     Page and Plant’s attorney Peter Anderson declined to comment after the verdict beyond thanking the jury for its service.
     After the verdict, Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy said the ruling was “very disappointing” and bemoaned the fact that he could not play Spirit’s recording of “Taurus” to jurors.
     Instead, they heard a guitar part from the plaintiff’s side based on the “Taurus” sheet music deposited at the U.S. Copyright Office in 1967.
     “We’re fighting with a foot stapled to the ground and an arm tied behind our back. It wasn’t a fair fight,” Malofiy said.
     When asked if Skidmore would appeal, Malofiy said that they would move forward “one step at a time” but added that there are “obviously appealable issues.”
     Skidmore, a former British rock journalist, is the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust. It was Spirit singer and guitarist Randy Wolfe, nicknamed Randy California, who wrote “Taurus” in his late teens.
     During the trial, surviving Led Zeppelin members — bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones, as well as Page and Plant — testified that they were not familiar with “Taurus,” and did not recall playing with the band at several stateside shows.
     Page took the stand last week and 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 Spirit’s debut in his collection of 4,329 albums and 5,882 CDs but said he did remember how the record had ended up there.
     The four women and four men of the jury heard evidence that Plant had watched Spirit and met the band at a 1970 show at the Mothers Club in Birmingham. But Plant said he did not remember ever seeing the band play live and said he never owned any Spirit albums.
     Page and Plant argued that the commonplace elements of both “Stairway” and “Taurus” were so-called descending chromatic lines that were in the public domain and had existed for 300 years.
     There are multiple examples of 20th Century pop songs that used the musical device, including “My Funny Valentine” and “Michelle” by The Beatles, they said.
     “Stairway to Heaven” appeared as the fourth track on Led Zeppelin’s untitled 1971 album, better known as “Led Zeppelin IV.”
     By some estimates, “Stairway to Heaven” is worth $562 million in publishing royalties and record sales.
     Skidmore claimed the band’s 87-song catalog, including “Stairway to Heaven,” had earned over $58.5 million from a statutory period that began in the summer of 2011, and that the song had netted the music duo millions of dollars.
     But a British accountant for Page and Plant’s business management firm testified that Page’s gross revenues from “Stairway to Heaven” before tax were $615,000. Plant’s were $532,000, the court heard.
     Led Zeppelin fans and interested members of the public lined up each day outside the Edward Roybal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles to secure a seat in Judge Klausner’s small courtroom.
     Page and Plant thanked fans in a joint statement issued after the verdict.
     “We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years. We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us,” they said.

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