Jury Climbing Stairway to Decision in Led Zeppelin ‘Stairway' Copyright Trial

At stake in the closely watched lawsuit for alleged copyright infringement are millions of dollars in past and future "Stairway" royalties

The song remained the same during a five-day copyright trial over Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," with band members repeatedly denying allegations that they swiped part of a little-known instrumental by the 1960s group Spirit and used it for their rock classic.

Closing arguments wrapped up early Wednesday in the closely watched trial, in which millions of dollars in past and future "Stairway" royalties are at stake. Some reports estimate the song with its signature opening guitar arpeggio has earned more than $500 million.

Deliberations began Wednesday morning and were expected to continue Thursday. 

Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were called to the witness stand and denied allegations they stolen the famous opening to one of rock's best-known songs. An attorney for Page and Plant concluded the defense's case by playing for the jury excerpts from Page's own 46-year-old work tapes revealing the development of "Stairway," ending his case by presenting the finished version.

Page swayed, tapped his fingers along with the beat and smiled as his band's multimillion-selling signature song rang out in the austere 60-seat courtroom.

Plant testified earlier that he recalled writing the opening stanzas of "Stairway" in 1970 as he and Page sat by a fireplace in an English country manor house where the band recorded and rehearsed.

The lawsuit alleges that the guitar arpeggio was lifted from Randy Wolfe's 1968 instrumental "Taurus," from Spirit's debut album. The suit was lodged in 2014 on behalf of Michael Skidmore, administrator of Wolfe's trust. Known as Randy California — a moniker given him by pal Jimi Hendrix — Wolfe drowned in 1997 off the coast of Hawaii.

Dollar amounts ranging from $3.5 million to $58 million have been bandied about, but David Woirhaye, the chief financial officer of Rhino Entertainment —which markets and distributes the Led Zeppelin catalog — testified that "Stairway" has grossed $3.4 million during the five-year statutory period at issue in the case.

During five days of trial, Page, Plant and Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones told the eight-member jury that they have no recollection of hearing Spirit perform in concert or of hearing "Taurus" before Zeppelin wrote and recorded "Stairway."

Skidmore's attorney spent much of last week trying to show that Page was familiar with Spirit's music, owned the record that featured "Taurus" and had discussed the band in interviews.

Musicologists called by the plaintiffs said that there were substantial similarities between key parts of the two songs. Experts hired by the defense, however, testified that the chord pattern used in the intro to "Stairway" was so "commonplace" that it doesn't deserve a copyright.

The Led Zeppelin classic first appeared on the band's untitled fourth album in 1971.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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