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News From the 'Stairway to Heaven' Copyright Trial

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on June 18, 2016 9:59 AM

If you are of a certain age, then you know that every school dance must end with one song. It's slow and long and now-iconic and it's the subject of a copyright trial in federal court in California.

The "Stairway to Heaven" copyright case has qualities similar to the famous song at its center insofar as it's convoluted. But resolution may not be too far away, reports Courthouse News Service. This week the case is being tried more than four decades after the song was released. Members of the band Led Zeppelin are present and have testified.

In Sum

"'Stairway to Heaven' was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and them alone," said Peter Anderson, an attorney for the band Led Zeppelin said in his opening arguments. Of course, if it was that clear, then the musicians would not be facing this challenge and there would be no legal proceeding.

The plaintiff argues that the iconic song has elements of another song written several years before by a band called Spirit, which Led Zeppelin members supposedly admired and had seen perform live. Spirit released an instrumental track called "Taurus" that is now being called the basis for "Stairway to Heaven." The song's writer, Randy Wolfe, is deceased and represented by a trust. The case was brought my Michael Skidmore, trust manager, on behalf of the Wolfe trust.

Musicians in Court

This week, aging musicians from both bands, Spirit and Led Zeppelin, testified about events that happened decades ago, and about musical notes. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it was not an impressive show, and attorneys for both sides were chided by the judge for squabbling and lack of professionalism.

In earlier hearings, Jimmy Page admitted to finding a copy of the Spirit album in question among his record collection but he denies writing "Stairway to Heaven" with any influence. Meanwhile, former Spirit members recall members of Led Zeppelin at their shows decades ago.

But Led Zeppelin has been particularly vehement about defending against this case. According to Courthouse News Service, previous copyright violation claims have always been settled out of court. But given the significance of this song to their career, Led Zeppelin wants to make sure it is known that the band owns the music and is even challenging the plaintiff's standing to sue, saying Spirit didn't own the song "Taurus" in 1967.

Michael Skidmore, the plaintiff, seeks compensatory damages, profits, statutory damages of $150,000 per infringement, punitive damages, and exemplary damages. If he wins, it will be a major coup for him and a blow to Led Zeppelin, although for audiences it may be too late to care about "Stairway to Heaven."

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