Update on "Who will get Stairway to Heaven Royalties" Case

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Update on "Who will get Stairway to Heaven Royalties" Case

Postby jon » Fri Feb 05, 2016 1:55 pm

Led Zeppelin Rock Gods Deposed in Stairway to Heaven Lawsuit
Copyright claim unearths early recordings and financial records
Vernon Silver
February 3, 2016 — 10:37 AM MST

The surviving members of Led Zeppelin have all been questioned in a lawsuit that alleges their hit Stairway to Heaven was filched from an obscure song by the band Spirit. Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Robert Plant were each deposed separately over the past month as part of pretrial discovery in the copyright infringement case, new filings in Los Angeles federal court show.

During the depositions in London, they all said that they had no idea what their finances or earnings were with Led Zeppelin, according to a filing by the plaintiff's lawyer asking for more time to investigate. The musicians and their record company, Warner Music, deny the infringement allegations and say Plant and Page alone composed the 1971 song.

To many ears, the opening notes of Stairway to Heaven sound a lot like Taurus, an instrumental piece released on Spirit’s debut album in 1968 (decide for yourself here). At the end of that year and throughout 1969, Spirit and Led Zeppelin shared the bill at several concerts.

Led Zeppelin's guitarist, however, testified his memory of the era was vague, according to the filing by plaintiff's lawyer Francis Alexander Malofiy, who conducted the questioning. "Jimmy Page’s discovery answers [the] claim that he remembers virtually nothing about the 1960s or 1970s despite many public interviews concerning Spirit where he stated that he listened to the band’s albums and that they struck him on an emotional level, despite the fact that he played and attended concerts where Spirit performed," Malofiy wrote.

Spirit guitarist Randy California, who composed Taurus, died in 1997. Malofiy, representing the head of the trust that oversees California's royalties, filed the suit in May 2014. The Philadelphia-area lawyer now wants the court to push the trial date from May to July, in part to give him more time to process the mountains of information he's gotten in discovery—including 40,000 pages of financial records.

The fight has potentially high stakes. By 2008, when Conde Nast Portfolio magazine published an estimate that included royalties and record sales for Stairway to Heaven, the hit had earned at least $562 million. If the suit succeeds, a three-year statute of limitations would limit the award to the most recent earnings. "Stairway to Heaven is notoriously one of the most protected and valuable pieces of intellectual property in history and thus it is crucial for Plaintiff’s damages experts to be able to fully evaluate all relevant information to come to a competent opinion," Malofiy wrote.

Should the case come to trial, it might make for good listening. The Led Zeppelin legal team says preliminary recordings prepared in the creation of Stairway to Heaven have been located, according to their response to discovery requests. And the two sides are still battling over whether the defendants should turn over a so-called multi-track version of the song that would allow music experts to isolate the different elements of the song. According to Malofiy's filings, the very existence of the multi-track was unknown until recent weeks.
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Re: Update on "Who will get Stairway to Heaven Royalties" Ca

Postby jon » Thu Jun 23, 2016 10:36 am

Led Zeppelin Beats Claims ‘Stairway to Heaven’ Stole Chords
Edvard Pettersson
June 23, 2016 — 11:15 AM MDT
Updated on June 23, 2016 — 11:26 AM MDT
  • Band was accused of ripping off obscure 1968 track by Taurus
  • Robert Plant and Jimmy Page won’t have to share song credit
Led Zeppelin won’t have to share royalties from one of rock-and-roll’s masterpieces after a jury found guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant didn’t steal the opening chords of “Stairway to Heaven” from an obscure 1968 instrumental.

Thursday’s verdict followed a five-day copyright trial that focused on concerts and clubs attended by Led Zeppelin members decades ago and whether they heard the Southern California group Spirit perform “Taurus,” a song built around a descending chromatic scale recognizable to Led Zeppelin fans in the first measures of “Stairway to Heaven.”

Page testified at the trial in Los Angeles federal court that he liked Spirit but didn’t even know of the controversy until his son-in-law played an Internet mash-up of the songs. Page and bass player John Paul Jones told jurors they hadn’t been aware that Spirit was also on the bill at their first U.S. concert in 1968 in Denver. While one Spirit member recalled rounds of drinking and snooker with Plant after his band played at a U.K. nightclub in 1970, Plant testified he remembered a car crash on his way home that night but not hearing or meeting Spirit.

Jurors didn’t get to hear full descriptions of Led Zeppelin’s hard-drinking, drug-consuming ways in the 1970s and speculation about impaired memories. And they never got to hear a recording of “Taurus” because the copyright claim was based only on the sheet music for the song. So they listened as musicologists either plucked out the two tunes on a guitar or tapped them out on an electric piano, along with other pop songs containing chromatic progressions. Jurors did get to hear recordings of Led Zeppelin rehearsals and, as the defense’s final exhibit, were treated to the album version of “Stairway to Heaven” -- all eight minutes of it.

Led Zeppelin’s win comes amid an uptick in lawsuits over allegedly stolen songs following last year’s surprise verdict by a Los Angeles jury that Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s 2013 mega-hit “Blurred Lines” infringed Marvin Gaye’s 1977 single “Got to Give It Up.” Gaye’s heirs won a $7.4 million award at trial -- later reduced by the judge to about $5.3 million and now on appeal. This year, singers Kanye West, Justin Bieber and Ed Sheeran have been sued for alleged copyright violations.

Spirit Guitarist

The lawsuit was brought by the trust of the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, also known as Randy California, who wrote “Taurus" for his girlfriend. Wolfe never filed an infringement lawsuit and Led Zeppelin argued that the trust didn’t own the rights to the song, which instead belong to the publisher under a 1967 agreement.

The trust’s lawyer said the trust had a fiduciary duty to pursue its claim following a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allows for copyright infringement lawsuits after years of delay.

The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, 15-cv-03462, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
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