Jury deliberating 'Stairway to Heaven' case

The lawyers in the Stairway to Heaven trial (Michael Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin et al) wrapped up their arguments Wednesday morning and the case is now over to the jury for deliberation. 

Plaintiff’s lawyer Francis Malifoy used his closing arguments to reinforce his claim that Led Zeppelin's stairway to heaven was ripped from the intro to Spirit's song Taurus.

Malifoy said when Zeppelin first travelled to the U.S., most of their songs were covers. He says Spirit was the “hot” band in the western scene.

Malifoy says Robert Plant and Jimmy Page covered a different Spirit song at least 15 times in concert - trying to prove they were well aware of Spirit's music 

He cited Spirit bassist Mark Andes testifying the band played Taurus during a show in which Led Zeppelin also performed.

The plaintiff’s lawyer also says Jimmy Page had selective memory. Malifoy says reporters half a century ago quoted page saying he always enjoyed seeing Spirit.

Defense attorney Peter Anderson says there’s no real evidence Led Zeppelin heard Taurus before writing Stairway to Heaven.

He reminded the jury Taurus was never released as a single - so it didn’t get radio play, and says Spirit and Led Zeppelin were never on stage together at the same time.

Anderson's biggest argument is that the part of the music that is shared is a common musical building block that goes back 300 years and even exists in Beatles songs.


The Led Zeppelin Stairway to Heaven trial can get confusing.

FOX 11's Zohreen Adamjee broke down some FAQs about the trial with music copyright expert Steven Weinberg, who has worked on similar cases before. She asked him simplify some of the complicated legal concepts at issue. 

WHO IS THE PERSON SUING LED ZEPPELIN? 

His name is Michael Skidmore; he’s a representative of the estate of Randy Wolfe aka Randy California, the Spirit band member and author of the songTaurus. 

WHY IS MICHAEL SKIDMORE SUING LED ZEPPELIN NOW — DOES IT HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE ROBIN THICKE BLURRED LINES CASE?

No. It’s because in 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case which permits claims like this to be brought as long as there’s continuing infringement. The entire Led Zeppelin catalogue was recently re-released, so there’s a renewed interest in it, which means a sales spike.

WHY CAN’T THE JURY JUST COMPARE THE TWO AUDIO RECORDINGS AND CALL IT A DAY?

The original copyright in 1967 only covers sheet music. During that time, audio recordings were not covered and therefore not deposited with the Library of Congress. Sound recordings weren’t protected until 1978. 

LED ZEPPELIN HAS SETTLED LAWSUITS BEFORE, WHY ARE THEY TAKING THIS ONE TO TRIAL?

I think they felt they had strong defenses in this case, together with the fact that this song defines the essence of Led Zeppelin as a band and recording artist. 

WHAT DOES MICHAEL SKIDMORE’S SIDE HAVE TO PROVE?

Two things: one is that Led Zeppelin were exposed to Spirit’s composition that is claimed to be used for the intro to Stairway (access) and substantial similarity in the two works. 

HOW MUCH MONEY IS AT STAKE? 

Only money earned for Stairway to Heaven since 2011, because the statute of limitations for copyright filings is three years. A fraction of $2 million if you’re going by the defense’s calculations. Far more if you’re going by the plaintiff’s side but the numbers weren’t broken down clearly. They’d also get future royalties. Let’s not forget, the biggest prize is partial credit in arguably one of music’s most iconic songs. 

WHO GETS THE MONEY IF LED ZEPPELIN LOSES.

It would go Randy California’s trust. 

HOW MUCH DOES MICHAEL SKIDMORE PERSONALLY GET?

Nothing directly 

SO THEN WHY IS HE BRINGING THE CASE FORWARD?

According to the plaintiff’s lawyer they “want credit where credit is due” Also, the trust earns money. Skidmore could get increased trustee fees based upon the amount of money in the trust.

WHAT DOES OUTCOME OF TRIAL MEAN FOR THE MUSIC INDUSTRY 

If Skidmore wins, it could expose more artists to similar claims. 

LED ZEPPELIN’S FROM BRITAIN, WHY IS THE TRIAL IN CALIFORNIA?

It started in Pennsylvania because plaintiff’s lawyer is from there. But the band had “insufficient contacts” with Pennsylvania for the court to have jurisdiction over British subjects. They had stronger ties and contacts in Los Angeles, which would subject them to jurisdiction here. 

WHY IS THIS CASE IN A FEDERAL COURT?

Copyright claims typically must be brought in federal courts. 

WHY HAVE JIMMY PAGE AND ROBERT PLANT BEEN IN COURT EVERY DAY?

They were named as defendants, they legally have to be. 

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER A VERDICT IS ANNOUNCED? 

The losing side will likely appeal. If that happens, this case will continue to travel through the court system for another three years. 

Court sketches by: Mona S. Edwards

 

 

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