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Judge strips back Led Zep plagiarism trial

By | Published on Wednesday 27 April 2016

Led Zeppelin

The judge overseeing the Led Zeppelin plagiarism case has dismissed various elements of the proceedings ahead of the scheduled jury hearing that is due to take place next month, mainly to the advantage of the accused Led Zeppers Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

As previously reported, Led Zeppelin are accused of ripping off a song by Randy Craig Wolfe, aka Randy California, for their classic track ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Led Zep toured with Wolfe’s band Spirit in the late 1960s which – the lawsuit claims – is when they were exposed to his song ‘Taurus’. The litigation, filed by a lawyer called Francis Malofiy on behalf of a trust that benefits from the late Wolfe’s estate, claims that the band then lifted elements of ‘Taurus’ when writing ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

Earlier this month the judge hearing the case decided that there were sufficient similarities between the two songs to allow the dispute to go to a jury trial. Though, in a pre-trial hearing this week, the judge plonked a load of limitations on what will be presented and debated in court. Most of the restrictions are on the plaintiff.

Perhaps most importantly, the judge has ruled that only those elements of Wolfe’s songs contained within the published music as filed with the US copyright office – and not extra elements that appear in recorded performances of the work – can be presented in court.

A similar ruling was made ahead of last year’s ‘Blurred Lines’ trial, and it means Malofiy won’t be able to play a bunch of recordings he planned to play in court. And, perhaps more problematically, it means the expert musicologist testimonies he has so far filed are mainly invalid, because they are based on the recordings rather than the sheet music. The plaintiffs now have five days to submit alternative expert testimonies.

Elsewhere, the judge said plaintiffs can’t list other allegations of plagiarism made against Led Zep, nor will they be able to chat about the band members’ past use of drugs and alcohol, something that may have been used to throw doubt on Page’s recollection from way back when that he had definitely not heard ‘Taurus’ before writing ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

On other side of the equation, the defence were told they can’t question the validity of the Rand Craig Wolfe Trust, which is leading on the lawsuit, but that they will be allowed to argue that the copyright in ‘Taurus’ is actually owned by Wolfe’s son.

The other big bit of news this week is that neither Page nor Plant plan to testify during the trial, because as UK citizens the courts cannot force them. Previously recorded depositions will likely be played though.

Unless a settlement can be reached, the case should kick off on 10 May.