Artist News Business News Labels & Publishers Legal

Final legal wranglings shouldn’t stop ‘Stairway To Heaven’ song theft case getting underway

By | Published on Tuesday 14 June 2016

Led Zeppelin

So, the big Led Zeppelin song-theft case gets underway today, though for a moment it looked like some last minute legal wrangling behind the scenes could cause a delay.

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

Led Zeppers Robert Plant and Jimmy Page deny the allegations, and are set to say so in court. Similar to the key defence argument in last year’s ‘Blurred Lines’ plagiarism case, the two men argue that any similarities between the two songs are simply common musical structures that can be found in countless works. Not that that worked for Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams.

As is always the case in song theft disputes, Led Zeppelin will present one of those musicologists who will use all of his skills to back up their claims that no plagiarism took place. Though over the weekend the Wolfe Trust’s lawyer tried to have that expert banned from the proceedings over allegations there was a conflict of interest.

In his new court filing, Malofiy said that it transpired that musicologist Lawrence Ferrara had previously been hired by Wolfe’s publisher – which is not backing the litigation – to evaluate the similarities between the two songs. This fact had not been declared by the defence, which has been colluding with the publisher, the filing added, before alleging that the defence counsel wanted Ferrara on their side because he is known to always provide the opinions that any paymaster wants.

Legal reps for Led Zep said those allegations were baseless, before adding, according to Billboard, that the motion was a “desperate attempt to interfere with their defence”. He added that: “Defendants’ counsel did exactly what was appropriate when they learned that Dr Ferrara had been consulted by Universal and Rondor: They obtained Universal and Rondor’s consent to defendants’ retention of Dr Ferrara”.

For his part, the judge overseeing the case, R Gary Klausner, sided with Led Zep, basically saying that the new allegations had been submitted too late. He also refused to reconsider a previous summary judgement to the effect that the plaintiff’s can only claim 50% of any damages awarded, because of a condition in Wolfe’s publishing contract. Malofiy argued that the publisher had violated its fiduciary duties by conspiring with the defence, and therefore that clause should no longer stand. Klausner did not concur.

And, with all that settled, we can now settle down and enjoy 2016’s big plagiarism trial. We’re not expecting the comedy value delivered by Thicke and Pharrell in the ‘Blurred Lines’ case, though it should be a decent second instalment in this Song-Theft Trilogy, due to finale with part three year next, starring none other than Mr Ed Sheeran.