'Stairway to Heaven' Opening Statements Could Lead to Mistrial
Michael Skidmore, who represents the estate of Spirit songwriter Randy Wolfe, is suing Page and Led Zeppelin for copyright infringement. Skidmore claims Page or frontman Robert Plant heard "Taurus" during the late 1960s and copied it for "Stairway."
Skidmore's attorney Francis Malofiy actually referred to Page as "the alleged composer" of "Stairway to Heaven" and said the band became famous by making other people's music its own.
Page was on the stand for two hours Wednesday afternoon and, after a dry morning mostly spent watching a video deposition from a UK Spirit fan, the exchange provided some welcome comic relief — although much of it was at Malofiy's expense. U.S. District Court judge R. Gary Klausner met privately with the attorneys during a morning break to talk about "procedure" and afterward he stopped pulling punches.
After excessive questioning about interviews printed during the late 60's and early 70's, much of which Page didn't recall, Malofiy continued to push Page on whether he was a Spirit fan back then and whether he'd ever said he was. "How many times can we beat a dead horse?" asked Klausner.
Malofiy responded by asking to enter one of the articles into evidence and said it impeached Page — meaning caught him in a lie about his alleged Spirit fandom. "It's wishful thinking, counsel, when you say you think you impeached him," Klausner said, which offers some insight into how the judge feels the trial is going so far.
Perhaps the biggest laugh came shortly after Malofiy described Page as a "session musician" and asked about his history of playing guitar — he first picked it up at the age of 12.
"Later on you had a gift of playing guitar, is that correct?" Malofiy asked.
"Well, yeah," Page said, in a tone somehow both humble and wry. The courtroom roared with laughter, either at the obviousness of the answer or the surprised smile on Page's face when he answered.
When Malofiy was asking Page about the Internet video he watched and whether he thought "Taurus" and "Stairway" sounded similar, the attorney hit a wall. Page heard the album version of the song, and that's not relevant right now — only the deposit copy of the sheet music that was filed with the U.S. Copyright Office is protected. (Pre-1972 sound recordings aren't protected by federal copyright law, an issue which is the subject of several state lawsuits.)
Malofiy on Wednsday filed a motion asking the court to allow the sound recordings to be used as evidence, even though they can't be proof of copyright infringement.
“These are the versions of Taurus that Led Zeppelin had access to, they did not have access to the deposit copy or some recording that was limited to the notes in the deposit copy,” Malofiy writes in the motion. “Even if the recordings are not relevant to prove infringement, they are highly relevant – indeed crucial – to proving access and/or rebutting independent creation.”
'Stairway to Heaven' Trial: Judge Strikes Led Zeppelin Music Expert Request
Earlier in the day, Malofiy left the room to fetch the next witness — a Spirit super fan named Bruce Pates — and was gone for several minutes. "Let's hope counsel hasn't gone home," quipped Klausner. The room filled with giggles — unbeknownst to the absent Malofiy.
Pates' testimony centered on conversations he had with others, in his capacity as the band's historian, and was cut short after Klausner grew tired of hearing hearsay objections from Zeppelin lawyer Peter Anderson. "He can't testify as to what someone else did," Klausner said, prompting Malofiy to end his questioning.
In all, Malofiy drew more than 50 sustained objections during the course of the day.
The attorney's experience with Spirit bassist Mark Andes wasn't much smoother. At one point, Klausner asked the attorney if he was aiming to impeach his own witness by offering deposition testimony contrary to what Andes said on the stand.
While there was no "pen-gate" to dismay reporters Wednesday, more spectators showed up and that created a frenzy for seats in the small courtroom. Typically during a high profile trial, a nearby courtroom will set up with a video feed of the proceedings to accommodate overflow. Klausner opted not to allow that, so by the end of the day, court staff warned that if someone left the courtroom during a break that person's seat was up for grabs — even if he or she left belongings behind to "save" it.
With Page back on the stand Thursday morning, and Plant still to testify, the third day of trial will likely see the courthouse become a mad house.
This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.