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Led Zeppelin want legal costs covered in song-theft dispute

By | Published on Thursday 8 June 2017

Led Zeppelin

Lawyers for Led Zeppelin are seeking to have the band’s legal costs covered in relation to last year’s headline-grabbing song-theft lawsuit over ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

As much previously reported, Led Zep were sued by the estate of songwriter Randy Wolfe – aka Randy California – which alleged that ‘Stairway To Heaven’ ripped off a Spirit song written by Wolfe.

Led Zeppelin ultimately defeated the litigation. Although the jury reckoned Led Zepp’s Jimmy Page may have been exposed to Wolfe’s song ‘Taurus’ before writing ‘Stairway’, it was decided the two songs weren’t sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement.

The Wolfe Trust, led by Michael Skidmore and represented by lawyer Francis Malofiy, is appealing the decision, arguing that the jury was badly advised.

The appeal also takes issue with the fact that – with songs of this era – only the core composition as submitted in sheet music form with the Copyright Office is protected by copyright in the US, rather than all the composition elements of the original recording of the work. This meant the jury couldn’t hear the original recorded version of ‘Spirit’ in court to compare it to the famous Led Zeppelin track. Malofiy reckons that is unfair.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a legal rep for Led Zep and their publisher Warner/Chappell, Peter Anderson, has now filed a response to the appeal, in which he argues that “substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdict”, adding that “Skidmore’s appeal has absolutely no merit”. On the point of what, exactly, is protected by the US song copyright, he goes on: “Skidmore misreads statutes and cases to advocate against black-letter copyright law”.

While seeking to have the original ruling in the ‘Stairway’ case upheld, Anderson does call on appeal judges to overturn one element of the original judgement, which was judge R Gary Klausner’s decision not to force the Wolfe Trust to cover Led Zep and Warner/Chappell’s legal costs.

Despite frequently seeming exasperated with Malofiy during the court proceedings, Klausner ruled that the Wolfe Trust’s case was not frivolous and that the plaintiffs did not have “nefarious motives”, and therefore shouldn’t have to foot the other side’s legal bill.

Anderson disagrees, arguing that it was unreasonable for Skidmore to pursue the legal action on “the shared presence of five pitches of the chromatic scale” when it’s fundamentally true that “no one owns musical scales”. The lawyer also points out that these were both old songs, and that Wolfe himself never took issue with ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

It remains to be seen how the appeal judges respond.