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After five days of trial, rock ‘n’ roll history is in the hands of eight jurors who will decide if Led Zeppelin stole the iconic guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven” from late 1960s rock band Spirit.
Francis Malofiy, who is representing the estate of songwriter Randy Wolfe, has toed the line of judicial impropriety for the better part of a week — drawing more than 100 sustained objections and multiple warnings from U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner. During closings arguments Wednesday morning, Malofiy’s tone was much more deferential — although even his discussion of witness testimony drew Led Zeppelin’s counsel to interrupt with more objections. Klausner allowed him to continue.
Malofiy referred to Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant as “session musicians” and told the jury to give credit where credit is due. He argues Wolfe deserves it for “Stairway” because the song allegedly infringed “Taurus.”
“We’re asking for one-third credit,” said Malofiy, explaining he doesn’t want to exclude Page and Plant. “It doesn’t minimize their amazing contribution to the song.”
The attorney told the jury he wanted to play the official sound recording of “Taurus” for them but wasn’t allowed to do so (as the copyright registration only protected the composition) — a move Klausner called inappropriate in light of his pre-trial ruling that such evidence was off-limits.
Malofiy also questioned Page and Plant’s credibility and encouraged the jury to do the same. He didn’t outright say they’re lying, but argued the lawsuit must be the reason why they are “selectively mis-remembering things that happened many years ago.”
Those “things” include whether they were fans of Spirit, saw the band perform and which part of “Stairway” was written first.
Led Zeppelin’s attorney Peter Anderson led off his closing with a shot at Malofiy’s opening statement. He pointed out that Malofiy promised the jury “six words” to define the case and gave them “In the beginning, God created …,” which is only five words.
Anderson also argued that Wolfe’s estate doesn’t own the copyright to “Taurus,” and that Hollenbeck Music does (as a result of a songwriting agreement that Wolfe signed in the 1960s). Even if it did, Led Zeppelin’s lawyer said the similarities are musical building blocks and in the public domain.
Access to “Taurus” also was attacked. Anderson acknowledged that Led Zeppelin used a bass riff from Spirit’s “Fresh Garbage” in a medley during about a dozen public performances, but said it is “a complete distraction,” nodding at the fact that Plant testified he heard it on a compilation album that did not contain the real song at issue. The defense attorney also questioned the plaintiff’s witnesses by saying they had “questionable ties” to those involved in the case with no recollection that Led Zeppelin members ever saw spirit perform “Taurus.”
Anderson asked, what did Malofiy not address?
Record sales was the answer. “Taurus” wasn’t a radio single, nor was it on the only album that went gold for Spirit.
“‘I Got a Line on You’ may be the only song that we remember,” he said, adding in the next beat, “If we remember any of them.”
The snarky comment drew a gasp from Wolfe’s sisters in the front row.
During Malofiy’s brief rebuttal, he told jurors Anderson was trying to trick them and “it’s not a coincidence” that the two songs contain similar chord progressions. He ended by reminding the jury he only needed to prove his case by a “preponderance of evidence.” “If we tilt the scale ever so slightly,” Malofiy explained with arms outstretched tilting to the side, the jury must find infringement.
With that, the jury was dismissed and deliberations began.
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