Lawyer: Led Zeppelin Just ‘Session Musicians Playing Other People’s Music’

“Stairway to Heaven” copyright case heads to jury

Led Zeppelin
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As the copyright trial revolving around Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” winds to a close, the heated rhetoric that’s marked the legal proceedings has not cooled off, with the attorney for the plaintiff calling the group “session musicians playing other people’s music” during his closing statement.

The comment drew a disgusted head shake from Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, who was in the Los Angeles courtroom, along with the group’s guitarist Jimmy Page.

Led Zeppelin is being sued by Michael Skidmore, the trustee of the Randy Craig Wolfe Trust, named after the deceased frontman for the group Spirit. Skidmore contends that the 1971 rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven” infringes on the 1968 Spirit song “Taurus,” which was written by Wolfe, who performed under the name Randy California.

While dismissing the group as “session musicians,” Skidmore’s attorney Francis Malofiy nonetheless referred to Page as an “incredible guitar player” and Plant as “very charismatic … it is obvious why he is such an amazing frontman.”

Malofiy told the court that the case is about one thing: credit.

“Creation does not mean copying,” Malofiy said. “It means creating on your own.”

Malofiy said that Skidmore is seeking a one-third credit to share the copyright, which “doesn’t displace Mr. Page or Mr. Plant. It doesn’t minimize their amazing contribution to their song.”

In his lawsuit, filed in 2014, Skidmore contended that Led Zeppelin had shared the bill on a number of early concerts with Spirit. During testimony, Page, Plant and John Paul Jones said they didn’t recall ever meeting Spirit. Page also said that he only became aware of the song “Taurus” in recent years, when comparisons between the two songs surfaced on the Internet.

Page conceded that Spirit’s self-titled debut, which contains “Taurus,” was in his record collection, but he said he wasn’t sure how it got there.

In his own closing statement, Zeppelin attorney Peter Anderson reasserted that Hollenbeck Music, not Skidmore, owns the rights to “Taurus.”

As for the concert bills that the two bands shared, Anderson said that there is “no evidence ‘Taurus’ was ever performed in the presence of these two gentlemen,” referring to Page and Plant.

Anderson also questioned why legal action had not been taken in the decades since “Stairway to Heaven” was released.

“Why didn’t Hollenbeck sue? Why didn’t Randy Wolfe sue?”Anderson asked.

With closing statements from the two sides complete, the eight-person jury, made up of four men and four women, will now move to deliberations.