Robert Plant and Jimmy Page have prevailed in Los Angeles federal court in the copyright infringement lawsuit regarding their authorship of “Stairway To Heaven.” The pair was sued by Michael Skidmore, the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, on behalf of the late Spirit guitarist who wrote “Taurus” and performed under the name Randy California. The trust was hoping to not only win a monetary judgment, but also secure a writing credit for California on “Stairway To Heaven.”
On Thursday (June 24th), the seventh and final day of the trial — which saw Plant, Page, and John Paul Jones all take the witness stand — the jury asked for recordings of both song to be played — with “Stairway” being aired twice. These were not the records of each song, but new recordings based solely on the respective song’s sheet music. 20 minutes later, the jury had its verdict.
- Rolling Stone reported: “The In the decisions of the questions considered by the jury, the verdict initially seemed to be leaning towards the plaintiffs. The first — whether or not the trust of late ‘Taurus’ songwriter Randy Wolfe, represented by trustee Michael Skidmore, actually owned the ‘Taurus’ copyright — ruled ‘yes’ for the plaintiffs. (Questions over who actually owned the ‘Taurus’ copyright had been a key part of Zeppelin counsel Peter Anderson‘s defense throughout the trial.) And as to whether there was a ‘preponderance of evidence’ that Page and Plant had ‘access’ to ‘Taurus’ in advance of writing ‘Stairway,’ the answer was definitively ‘yes.'”
Robert Plant & Jimmy Page issued a statement saying:
We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years. We appreciate our fans’ support and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.
Michael Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy issued a statement on the decision:
Justice is about the search for the truth; it escaped us.
For Led Zeppelin, they won on a technicality – they should be proud of that.
For Plaintiff the jury’s verdict is disappointing, but largely determined by one ruling of the court: Plaintiff was not permitted to play the album recording of Taurus, which Jimmy Page had in his record collection. This ruling, which limited Plaintiff to using the sheet music deposited in the Copyright Office, effectively tied our hands behind our back. Needless to say, we do not believe it is legally correct or logically sound.
In essence, this case was tried in an alternate reality. The jury never heard the album recording of Taurus that Jimmy Page heard and used to create Stairway to Heaven. Instead it heard a very basic piece of sheet music that no one, including Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, had ever seen. It was an artificial comparison that bore little relation to the reality of the claim.
It is important to realize, however, that the jury agreed very clearly with Plaintiff that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had access to Taurus, and discounted their denials that they had never heard Taurus before. For Led Zeppelin the case was about their legacy and reputation; for Randy California it was about credit. In this regard, neither party won.
Justice is sweet and musical; but injustice is harsh and discordant.
Here there was injustice.
- Jimmy Page recalled Led Zeppelin’s 1970 sessions at Headley Grange that captured “Stairway To Heaven” — but one of the many highlights found on the band’s untitled fourth album: [“Well, it was recorded on location at Headley, now, Andy Johns was doing the engineering. I knew it was good — I didn’t know it was going to be, y’know, almost like an anthem, but I knew it was the gem of the album, sure.”] SOUNDCUE (:13 OC: . . . the album sure)
- Robert Plant explained that Led Zeppelin lived its creative life constantly pushing boundaries and exploring new territories: [“You would just move off on an angle or a diagonal somewhere and another shape of music would come through, and we would build that and develop it into a new project each time. There was no thought about, ‘What do you think about it now?’ Y’know, I was still thinkin’ about whether or not I finished my French homework!”] SOUNDCUE (:17 OC: . . . my French homework)
INTERNET COMMENTS via RollingStone.com — agree or disagree???
Waldo Lydecker wrote: “this suit shouldn’t have been allowed to proceed to trial. absurd from the start. the two musical segments at issue were in no way similar except for key and tempo. for once, the jury got it right — unlike the blurred lines verdict.”
Misty4Me wrote: “If The Randy Wolfe Trust really had a case, they would have gotten a real lawyer instead of the almost disbarred in PA shyster, money grubbing nut case Francis Malofiy. Doubtful a real lawyer would have taken on this non-case.”
Jason L wrote: “It was purely a money grab. If they had succeeded, music would end soon. Everyone who has written a note would have sued everyone who had the same note of music. Led Zep won on the fact their music is original and timeless. Not some trumped up borrowing of another’s music. If there was a case, why 40+ years later to get the money? Oh that’s because Stairway alone has made close to $600 Million by itself as a single!”
SenorPlaid wrote: “The technicality, of course, being that the songs aren’t the same.”
Mike Hunter wrote: “Absolutely agree. This was just a ridiculous cynical lawsuit. There are only so many notes and combinations thereof – and you are certainly always going to have melodies which appear to be similar… but similar isn’t copyright infringement.”
CHECK IT OUT: Led Zeppelin on May 4th, 1975 performing “Stairway To Heaven” live at London’s Earls Court Arena: