'Stairway to Heaven' Trial: Judge Strikes Led Zeppelin Music Expert Request

Plus: Can an attorney play electric guitar to prove his client's point?
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Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant (left) and Jimmy Page

The judge who will decide if Led Zeppelin copied a guitar riff when writing "Stairway to Heaven" will hear from the band's musicologist at trial — despite a last-ditch effort to have him tossed for a conflict of interest. 

Trial is set to begin Tuesday morning to put to rest a dispute about whether "Stairway" infringes on a 1968 instrumental song called "Taurus" by the band Spirit. Michael Skidmore, who manages songwriter Randy Wolfe's trust, sued the band in 2014. 

Over the weekend, Skidmore's attorney, Francis Malofiy, filed a motion to exclude noted musicologist Lawrence Ferrara from testifying, claiming the expert had previously been hired by the plaintiff's publisher to evaluate the similarities between the two songs.

Zeppelin's attorney Peter Anderson, in his opposition to the filing, called the motion a baseless and desperate attempt to interfere with their defense. "Defendants’ counsel did exactly what was appropriate when they learned that Dr. Ferrara had been consulted by Universal and Rondor: They obtained Universal and Rondor’s consent to defendants’ retention of Dr. Ferrara," Anderson writes. 

Malofiy also asked the court to reconsider a summary judgment order which reduces any recoverable damages by 50 percent.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner on Monday ordered both the motions to be stricken because "hearing information is missing, incorrect, or not timely" and one of the filings exceeded the court's 20-page limit. In short: too much, too late.

In a rather amusing Monday filing, Anderson also opposed Skidmore's request to use two electric guitars for demonstrative purposes. 

Though it's a trial about a guitar riff, Anderson points out that Skidmore's musicologist testified that he doesn't play guitar. Anderson previously asked the court to exclude three other experts, who do play guitar, and Klausner tentatively agreed. 

So, whom would that leave to play these guitars? Anderson suspects it's Malofiy and says that would be inappropriate.

"Skidmore’s enigmatic assertion that the guitars he seeks permission to bring into the courtroom 'would include use by Plaintiff’s experts' ... suggests that Skidmore’s counsel may seek to play a guitar at trial," Anderson writes. "To permit him to do so would not only make his counsel a witness at trial, but effectively give Skidmore a new, previously undisclosed 'expert.'"

Klausner has yet to rule on that motion.

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