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Warner hits out at lawyer who pursued Led Zepp song-theft case as it seeks legal costs

By | Published on Monday 11 July 2016

Led Zeppelin

Warner/Chappell has asked the courts to force the trust that pursued the Led Zeppelin song theft lawsuit to pay the publisher’s legal costs, arguing that the plaintiffs were guilty of “gross misconduct” in the way they handled the case.

As much previously reported, Led Zeppelin were accused of ripping off a song by the late Randy California, aka Randy Wolfe, of the band Spirit for their hit ‘Stairway To Heaven’. It was the trust that benefits from Wolfe’s estate that pursued the litigation, the musician himself having been somewhat ambivalent about the similarities between the two songs during his lifetime.

After a lively court case that saw all three surviving members of Led Zeppelin take to the stand, a jury decided that the core compositions of ‘Stairway’ and the Spirit song ‘Taurus’ were not sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement.

Warner was a co-defendant on the action alongside the band’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and it is now seeking to reclaim the $613,000 in legal fees it ran up defending itself against the infringement lawsuit. In a legal filing making that claim last week, the major is very disparaging about the man who instigated the song-theft lawsuit, the Wolfe Trust’s Michael Skidmore, and even more his choice of lead attorney, Francis Malofiy.

The music firm reckons that it should have its legal costs covered because, it claims, Skidmore and Malofiy were guilty of “extensive and ongoing litigation misconduct”, which pro-longed the case and added to the cost of fighting the action.

According to Courthouse News, amongst various claims made against the plaintiffs, Warner says Malofiy initially filed his complaint in the wrong court, pursuing the action in Pennsylvania instead of LA, and that Skidmore and Malofiy subsequently filed thousands of documents “that no reasonable person could believe would be admissible” and renumbered exhibits “causing confusion throughout the trial”.

Warner then alleges that, during the court hearing itself, Malofiy misled jurors by claiming an audio interview with Led Zepp’s John Paul Jones dated from 1972, just after ‘Stairway’ had been written, when in fact it had been recorded 20 years later. It also alleges that a photo shown to the jury was “altered to omit two people and create the false impression that Robert Plant was speaking with [former Spirit bass player] Mark Andes”.

As previously reported, since the Led Zepp case reached its conclusion, Malofiy has been suspended from practicing law in Pennsylvania for three months in relation to his conduct during another copyright infringement lawsuit, a fact also raised in Warner’s court filing last week. Concluding, the mini-major says that the plaintiffs should pay its legal costs to “encourage and reward the litigation of a meritorious defence”.