Music Publisher Denied Legal Fees Award for "Stairway to Heaven" Trial

Warner/Chappell will have to foot the $800,000 bill for its legal fees and costs.
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Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin and Warner/Chappell music won their legal battle over "Stairway to Heaven," keeping rock 'n' roll history intact, but they'll have to foot the bill for their legal teams.

Judge R. Gary Klausner didn't have a whole lotta love for attorney Francis Malofiy's courtroom behavior, but that's not enough to make his client pay the label's legal fees for the "Stairway to Heaven" copyright trial.

Malofiy represented Michael Skidmore, trustee of songwriter Randy Wolfe's estate, in his claim that the famous band stole its iconic "Stairway" guitar riff from Wolfe's late '60s instrumental "Taurus." Malofiy's outlandish behavior sparked more than 100 sustained objections during the trial and multiple verbal lashings from Klausner.

"Throughout the course of litigation, Plaintiff’s counsel demonstrated a tenuous grasp of legal ethics and a rudimentary understanding of courtroom decorum," Klausner writes, before describing in detail two of the "many incidents comprising a litany of tasteless courtroom antics and litigation misconduct."

But Malofiy's behavior, while an apparently recurring issue resulting in his suspension from the Pennsylvania bar, won't be costing Wolfe's estate the $800,000 Warner/Chappell had requested.

In his analysis of the factors determining whether an award of fees is appropriate, Klausner found that the litigation misconduct and degree of success clearly weighed in the publisher's favor, as did the need for compensation because the insurance company declined to cover the lawsuit since it spawned from a decades-old claim.

However, Klausner also found Skidmore's lawsuit was not frivolous or objectively unreasonable and he appeared to have honorable motivation in bringing the suit, which ultimately carried more weight.

"Once the media hype and tangential distractions are stripped away, what remains is an objectively reasonable claim motivated by a desire to recognize Randy California’s musical contribution," Klausner writes. "The claim survived a summary judgment motion and proceeded to a hard-fought trial where a jury found for Plaintiff on ownership and access, but ultimately rendered a verdict for Defendants based on a lack of substantial similarity."

 

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