Appeal Filed in Led Zeppelin 'Stairway to Heaven' Copyright Trial

Attorneys for Randy Wolfe's estate argue "erroneous" jury instructions, erred definition or originality swayed verdict

The battle over "Stairway to Heaven" will rage on for at least one more chapter as the copyright infringement case heads to a federal appeals court. Credit: Mona Shafer Edwards

UPDATE: Led Zeppelin's legal team has filed a cross-appeal. Responding to Michael Skidmore's March appeal on behalf of late Spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe's estate, Led Zeppelin's attorney Peter Anderson argued that "substantial evidence supports the jury's verdict and Skidmore's appeal has absolutely no merit."

As The Hollywood Reporter reports, Anderson has also asked the Ninth Circuit to reverse U.S. District Court judge R. Gary Klausner's order regarding who should pay the legal fees. Warner/Chappell, whom Anderson also represents, has assumed most of the legal costs and fees for the defense. Anderson is seeking that the appellate court make Wolfe's estate pay those costs. In August, Klausner ruled against Warner/Chappell, who requested an award of $800,000 in fees and costs. Klausner found that Skidmore's lawsuit was not frivolous or objectively unreasonable.

The battle over "Stairway to Heaven" will rage on for at least one more chapter as Spirit's attorney filed an appeal with a federal court to argue the June verdict that sided with Led Zeppelin in the copyright infringement case.

In a 90-page brief filed Wednesday at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, attorney Francis Malofiy – the lawyer representing Michael Skidmore, the trustee of Spirit guitarist Randy (California) Wolfe's estate – argued that a series of "erroneous" jury instructions were to blame for the unanimous verdict siding with Led Zeppelin in the bizarre plagiarism case.

At the crux of the "Stairway" lawsuit is the accusation that the IV classic copies a riff found on Spirit's instrumental "Taurus," which predates the 1971 single. In his appeal, Malifoy wrote that the jury did not find the two songs "substantially similar" because they were not permitted to hear the version of "Taurus" that Jimmy Page allegedly ripped off.

"The most important of these errors was that the trial court refused to let the jury hear the full and complete composition of 'Taurus' embodied in the sound recordings that Jimmy Page possessed, instead limiting the comparison to an outline of the 'Taurus' composition in the deposit copy lead sheet," Malifoy wrote.

Skidmore's attorneys also accused the trial judge of making "a series of erroneous instructions on the scope of copyright protection," The Hollywood Reporter notes.

Other complaints pertaining to the initial trial include "Limiting Plaintiff's Trial Time to 10 Hours Violated Due Process and was Not Even Close to An Adequate Amount of Time to Try this Case" as well as "The Court Seriously Erred when Defining Originality."

In their filings to the 9th circuit court, Skidmore and company seek a reversal of the previous verdict and a retrial.

In July, after Page and Robert Plant were victorious in the copyright infringement case, Page wrote on Facebook, "A few weeks have passed since the judgement of the 'Stairway to Heaven' case in Los Angeles, with the jury reaching a unanimous decision in a remarkably short time. Throughout the lengthy journey to that verdict, and even more recently, I have received and been aware of the overwhelming wave of support, encouragement and congratulations that [have] been deeply moving. I'd like to take this opportunity to personally thank all those who contributed such a positive energy to me."