Artist News Business News Legal Top Stories

Closing arguments presented in Led Zeppelin song-theft case

By | Published on Thursday 23 June 2016

Led Zeppelin

As expected, the jury in the Led Zeppelin song theft case began their deliberations yesterday after defence lawyers for the band rested their case, and reps for both sides delivered their closing arguments.

As previously reported, the Zeppelin are accused of ripping off ‘Taurus’ – a song written by the late Randy California, aka Randy Craig Wolfe – for their much more famous work ‘Stairway To Heaven’. The trust that benefits from Wolfe’s estate claims that Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were exposed to the Spirit song at live shows in the late 1960s, which means it was well and truly in their heads when they sat down to compose ‘Stairway’. The former Led Zeppers deny ever knowing the song they are accused of stealing.

That last point was a key debate throughout the trial, ie whether or not Plant or Page had heard ‘Taurus’ before writing their hit. There were at least two gigs at the end of the 1960s where the plaintiffs argued at least one of them would have heard Wolfe’s song. Plus much was made of the fact Page has a copy of the Spirit album on which the song appeared in his record collection, he had said positive things about Wolfe’s band back in the day, and Led Zeppelin included a short cover of another Spirit song in their early gigs.

Summing up, the lawyer for the Wolfe Trust, Francis Malofiy, told the court, according to Rolling Stone: “This case is about one thing: credit. This case is about copying. Give. Credit. Where. Credit. Is. Due”. Referencing Plant and Page’s testimonies where they denied having ever heard ‘Taurus’, Malofiy accused the rockets of having “selective memories”, before honing in on inconsistencies between what they said in court and what they had said in interviews back in to day. “[Do we think their] memory is better now or in 1969 or 1970?”

Again questioning Jimmy Page’s songwriting skills, seemingly and weirdly on the basis that the guitarist began his career mainly playing other people’s songs, Malofiy also repeated his side of the other key argument in this case, just how similar – or not – ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway’ really are. His expert witnesses, he reminded the jury, said there was “substantial similarity” between the two songs, in particular in their use of “a descending chromatic scale in a unique and original way … that is memorable and unique”.

Page and Plant’s team, of course, had their own musicologist who said the opposite. Their legal man Peter Anderson recapped his expert’s testimony yesterday: that there was no “substantial similarity” and the two songs merely used the same “building blocks”. And they were building blocks that have been used in many other works too, and which are outside the protection of copyright law.

Anderson also defended any memory lapses that occurred in his clients’ testimonies, pointing out they wrote their song 45 years ago, and if Wolfe had had a problem with it, he really should have taken action back when it was released. The defence lawyer also argued that the plaintiffs had failed in any real terms to prove that either Plant or Page had heard ‘Taurus’ at the two Spirit gigs where they had at least been in the building on the day of the show. Indeed, he added, they hadn’t even shown Spirit played ‘Taurus’ at those concerts.

Anderson also tried to question whether the Wolfe Trust even had the right to pursue this case, arguing that the publisher of ‘Spirit’ – which is not part of the action – was actually the owner of the copyright in the song, and that Wolfe’s son, rather than the Trust, was possibly the rightful beneficiary of the songwriter’s share. Though the judge had dismissed both these points earlier in the case, and didn’t especially appreciate them being re-introduced at the final hurdle.

Unperturbed, Anderson concluded by referencing Malofiy’s opening line, and name-checking the Wolfe Trust trustee who has pursued this action, Michael Skidmore. “Randy California is entitled for credit for what he did”, Anderson said, again according to Rolling Stone, “but not what he didn’t do, and Mr Skidmore is not entitled [to the royalties]. [The plaintiffs] are asking you to take this iconic song, ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and say it has a new parent in Mr Skidmore”.

Jury deliberations will continue later today.