No Lawyer Fees in ‘Stairway’ Copyright Case

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — The copyright claims against Jimmy Page and Robert Plant over “Stairway to Heaven” were not meritless or made in bad faith, a federal judge ruled, rejecting a music publishers’ bid for $800,000 in attorney fees and costs.
     Warner/Chappell Music filed a motion for $613,000 in attorneys’ fees and $180,000 in costs after a jury found in June that “Stairway to Heaven” was not substantially similar to a progressive rock song called “Taurus.”
     The late guitarist Randy California, real name Randy Wolfe, wrote “Taurus” and recorded the instrumental with his Los Angeles-based band Spirit.
     Former British journalist Michael Skidmore sued the Zeppelin members on behalf of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust in 2014 claiming the duo had lifted the famous opening guitar riff to “Stairway” from the earlier song.
     After the jury ruled against him, Skidmore filed a notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit court in July.
     On Monday, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner denied Warner/Chappell’s motion for fees and costs, rejecting the claim that Skidmore “harbored nefarious motives” or had filed the suit to extract a massive settlement from Page, Plant and their record companies.
     The judge noted that he ruled that Skidmore had presented enough evidence of copying for the case to proceed to trial.
     “Once the media hype and tangential distractions are stripped away, what remains is an objectively reasonable claim motivated by a desire to recognize Randy California’s musical contribution,” Klausner wrote.
     The music publisher had argued that fees would act as a deterrent to make potential plaintiffs think twice before filing a lawsuit.
     Klausner said the issue weighed “slightly” in the defendants’ favor because they had presented evidence that their insurer had denied coverage because the claims against the song were more than 40 years old, but added that Skidmore had not engaged in misconduct to “justify the deterrent effect of attorney’s fees.”
     However, Klausner did not let Skidmore’s attorney Francis Francis Malofiy off the hook so easily.
     The judge slammed him for a “litany of tasteless courtroom antics and litigation misconduct” and said the attorney, who has been suspended over his conduct in an earlier copyright case, had a “tenuous grasp of legal ethics and a rudimentary understanding of courtroom decorum.”
     After the trial the jury found that Skidmore owned “Taurus,” that Page and Plant had heard “Taurus” before they created “Stairway” but “ultimately rendered a verdict for defendants based on a lack of substantial similarity,” the judge wrote.
     “Plaintiff was afforded a full opportunity to litigate its theory of infringement and defendants were entitled to raise a meritorious defense, which ultimately prevailed,” Klausner wrote, concluding that “attorney’s fees are not appropriate.”

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