Led Zeppelin may have won the copyright lawsuit against their iconic song “Stairway to Heaven,” but the attorney for the plaintiff in the case says justice was not served. In a statement posted by Rolling Stone, attorney Francis Malofiy, the lawyer for the estate of late Spirit guitarist Randy “California” Wolfe, said the Led Zeppelin case was “tried in an alternate reality.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 on behalf of the estate of Wolfe, and it accused Led Zeppelin songwriters Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of plagiarizing the intro from their 1971 hit from Spirit’s 1968 instrumental “Taurus.” But a Los Angeles jury ruled in favor of Led Zeppelin, determining that the songwriting duo did not copy the opening to their signature song. The eight-member jury’s verdict was unanimous in determining that the two songs are “not substantially similar,” according to the Wrap.
But Malofiy told Rolling Stone that Led Zeppelin “won on a technicality.” The lawyer expressed disappointment over the fact that his team was forbidden from playing the album recording of “Taurus,” a song that Zeppelin legend Jimmy Page admittedly has in his massive music personal collection. During the trial, a music expert performed both songs based on a “very basic piece” of original sheet music.
“This ruling, which limited Plaintiff to using the sheet music deposited in the Copyright Office, effectively tied our hands behind our back,” Malofiy said. “Needless to say, we do not believe it is legally correct or logically sound.”
“In essence, this case was tried in an alternate reality,” Malofiy continued. “The jury never heard the album recording of ‘Taurus’ that Jimmy Page heard and used to create ‘Stairway to Heaven.'”
While Led Zeppelin was victorious regarding the copyright claims, the jury agreed with the plaintiff on the assertion that Plant and Page had access to “Taurus” before they penned “Stairway,” effectively shutting down the rockers’ claims that they had never heard the Spirit song until the lawsuit was filed.
“For Led Zeppelin the case was about their legacy and reputation; for Randy California it was about credit. In this regard, neither party won,” Malofiy said.
The lawyer did not elaborate on what his client’s next steps would be, but immediately after the verdict was read, he hinted that this may not be the last of his dealings against Led Zeppelin. Music journalist Pamela Chelin reported from the courtroom, revealing that Malofiy expressed frustration over the sheet music issue and said there are many “appealable issues” that he will need to discuss with his client.
But according to legal experts, an appeal would not change several other determining factors that may have hurt the plaintiff’s case. Entertainment attorney James Sammataro told the Wrap that the “faceless” lawsuit — filed by Michael Skidmore, the executor of Randy Wolfe’s estate nearly 20 years after the “Taurus” songwriter died — made the plaintiff look “money-hungry,” despite the fact that they initially offered to settle the case for $1 and writing credit for Randy.
In addition, Malofiy turned off the judge multiple times during the proceedings, which may have negatively impacted the jury’s opinion of him and his case. On the first day of the trial alone, Judge R. Gary Klausner warned Malofiy that he risked a possible mistrial, and Klausner sustained dozens of objections against him over the course of the trial. Sammataro said the incidents made the plaintiff’s attorney “a little more polarizing.” And up against the star power of two Led Zeppelin legends, that definitely didn’t help his cause.
While several music litigators told Billboard that they fully expect the plaintiff to appeal, they all agreed it would be a waste of time and money.
“Malofiy being Malofiy, he’s going to appeal it,” attorney Robert Jacobs told the music magazine. “The law is well settled that you’re stuck with what the Copyright Office got. That’s just the way it is.”
Music lawyer William Hochberg told the magazine, “I think it would be a waste of time and money. I would suggest that they think long and hard about whether they really want to go forward with an appeal.”
No matter what happens, with their artistic integrity now intact, Led Zeppelin has already put the matter behind them. After the verdict in Led Zeppelin’s favor was announced, Plant and Page released a joint statement, which was posted by Entertainment Weekly.
“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,” the Led Zeppelin legends said.
Take a look at the video below for more on the verdict in the Led Zeppelin trial, including a comparison of the two songs and reaction from Randy California’s sister.
[Photo by Roger Jackson/Central Press/Getty Images]