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Jimmy Page takes to the stand in Led Zeppelin song theft case

By | Published on Thursday 16 June 2016

Led Zeppelin

“Objection!” might be a good conclusion of yesterday’s proceedings in the ongoing Led Zeppelin song theft case, the lawyer representing the band objecting to countless statements made by the legal man leading the plagiarism lawsuit. In fact The Hollywood Reporter counted over 50 occasions when Led Zep rep Peter Anderson shouted “objection” and the judge concurred. Indeed, on one occasion judge R Gary Klausner declared “sustained!” before Anderson had even had chance to object.

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 on behalf of the Wolfe Trust, claims that the band then lifted elements of ‘Taurus’ when writing their hit.

While a core argument of the defence is that the similarities between ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and ‘Taurus’ are outside the realm of copyright protection, in that they simply use the same ‘musical building blocks’, yesterday most of the proceedings focused not on copyright law technicalities, but on whether it can proven that Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had heard ‘Taurus’ before writing ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

The headline act of yesterday’s proceedings was Page, who scored a few laughs with his testimony – especially when Wolfe Trust lawyer Francis Malofiy, running through the guitarist’s life story, noted how Page had “discovered he had a gift in his ability to play guitar”, to which the Led Zep man responded, “Well, yeah”.

Page’s core claim is that he had never heard ‘Taurus’ until relatively recently, even though he does own a copy of the album on which it appears. According to Rolling Stone, the guitarist said he first heard the Spirit track when “something appeared on the internet – [when] there was a buzz going on about the comparison [between ‘Taurus’ and ‘Stairway’] a few years ago. My son-in-law brought it up; I don’t do the internet, so he played it for me. When I heard the orchestral part at the beginning [of ‘Taurus’], I knew I’d never heard it before … When it started, I was confused by the comparison … ‘What’s this got to do with ‘Stairway’?'”

While conceding that he owned a copy of the Spirit album on which ‘Taurus’ appears, he says he only remembers buying later records by the band. He added that he has over 10,000 records in his collection, a portion of which he was given, and there are plenty of recordings in there he has never actually listened too.

Much of the rest of the day in court was dedicated to attempts by Malofiy to prove that Page and/or Plant – even if they’d never listened to a recording of ‘Taurus’ – couldn’t have missed Spirit performing it live. There was talk of Plant attending a gig Spirit played in Birmingham in 1970, and then much chatter about a 1969 show in Denver where Led Zeppelin supported Spirit and heavy rockers Vanilla Fudge.

Page claimed that his band left that gig shortly after their set, and anyway he was always under the impression he was supporting Vanilla Fudge, and wasn’t really aware Spirit were co-headlining the show. “I was excited about opening for Vanilla Fudge”, he added, “because I was a big fan of theirs”.

“Ha!” – said Malofiy – you were a big fan of Spirit too, and look, here’s some media interviews from back in the day where you said so. “Well, you know, journalists”, Page basically implied in his response. Though when presented with an old audio interview in which he said “Spirit is a band I really love”, Page said it was all too long ago, and he couldn’t remember why he might have said that.

But, Malofiy continued, didn’t Led Zep cover Spirit track ‘Fresh-Garbage’, which appears on the same album as ‘Taurus’, during a medley section that was a staple of their early shows? That was true, Page admitted, though its inclusion was because his band liked to “chip a wink to what’s hot” when playing live. How long did Led Zeppelin play the Spirit song for in those early-day medleys? “I don’t know”, Page hit back. ” I don’t have a stopwatch”.

It’s still hard to tell which way this case will go, especially as we are yet to get to the key copyright technicalities. Though it doesn’t feel like the judge is much of a fan of Malofiy; when the lawyer took longer than expected while fetching a new witness, the judge joked “let’s hope counsel hasn’t gone home”, much to the amusement of the packed court room.

The case continues.