The song royalties will remain the same, as Goliath slayed David in the verdict for the Led Zeppelin copyright infringement trial that’s been playing out in Los Angeles federal court for over a week. In the court’s decision on “Michael Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin et al,” the legendary rock band and its corporate codefendants prevailed on all key points. That ruling, however, came after several nail-biting dramatic moments in the courtroom where it seemed the decision could go either way.
The court began the seventh and final day of the trial with jurors, plaintiffs and defendants entering the court at 9:38 a.m. with the presiding judge Gary Klausner being seated soon after. It was a false alarm, however: Jury members sent a note to the judge requesting acoustic guitar covers of Spirit’s “Taurus” – the composition plaintiffs claimed Zeppelin had plagiarized – and “Stairway to Heaven” be played twice. (Jurors were not allowed to hear the original recordings as plaintiffs could only sue over the recording’s sheet music.) After the recordings were played, however, the judge called a recess – with no indication as to when jurors would render their decision.
But just over 20 minutes later – and less than a day after final arguments by each side’s counsel had been deliberated by the jury – the trial abruptly resumed. As the jury returned to their seats, a silent tension rippled through the gallery. Before Judge Klausner commenced proceedings, Zep co-defendants Jimmy Page and Robert Plant smiled and chatted good-naturedly – yet as the court’s clerk began to read the verdict, their faces showed no reaction.
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.”
However, on the most crucial question – whether there was a “preponderance of evidence that original elements of ‘Taurus’ are extrinsically similar to ‘Stairway to Heaven'” – the jury’s answer was a resounding “no.” Anderson (an attorney who has successfully represented major record labels in cases involving Sly Stone and Madonna) and his secondary counsel, Helene Freeman — one of the most brilliant lawyers in the music industry, famed for extricating *NSYNC’s members from their onerous contracts with former manager Lou Pearlman — were clearly overjoyed by the verdict.
With all eyes on them, however, Page and Plant displayed little reaction at their triumph, though the duo did release a statement immediately following the verdict. “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,” Page and Plant said. ” We appreciate our fans’ support and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
As for the plaintiff’s brash Philly-based counsel, Francis Malofiy, robbed of his Rocky Balboa legal victory, he noted in an impromptu press conference following the verdict that he and his clients were “upset and distraught.” “I have to respect what the court did – it is what it is,” Malofiy said. “There are appealable issues; we’re taking that one step at a time for now. But Led Zeppelin got off on a technicality.”