The trial that could rewrite rock and roll history is underway, and the eight jurors who will decide if Led Zeppelin impermissibly copied the famous guitar riff in “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirit’s “Taurus” have been chosen.
Both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page sat across the courtroom, facing the potential jurors, during selection. Seven of the first 14 were dismissed, including a Zeppelin fan whose “love for these two guys” is “very strong.”
Attorneys Francis Malofiy, representing the Trustee who manages the estate of Spirit’s Randy Wolfe, and Peter Anderson, representing Zeppelin, were pleased with the next set, and a final group of four men and four women was sworn in.
Before jury selection, U.S. District Court judge R. Gary Klausner explained his no-nonsense approach to anything that might disrupt the many pre-trial rulings he made. On the eve of the trial, Malofiy was still submitting motions about what evidence could be heard. “I’m not going to do something spontaneous up here,” Klausner quipped, after directing Malofiy to put any requests in writing.
It’s a trial that’s literally decades in the making. Before he died, Wolfe was asked many times about the similarities between “Stairway to Heaven” and “Taurus” and was ambivalent about suing. After he passed, the “Taurus” copyright allegedly passed to the Trust, which got some luck in 2014 when the Supreme Court rejected a prejudicial delay as a reason to stop a copyright lawsuit. Nevertheless, the plaintiff has hurdles to climb including showing Plant and Page accessed “Spirit” before prevailing.
Now underway, the trial will allow each side 10 hours to present their arguments and witnesses. In total, Klausner says he expects the trial will last 4-5 days.
The day started roughly for journalists in the room after court staff informed the media that not only are laptops and cell phones banned — so are pens. After a furious search for enough pencils to go around, the judge decided to allow the use of any pen that doesn’t have an audio recording device or the ability to take photos. Bailiffs are taking the no-phones rule seriously. The first day is only half done and two people have already been kicked out. They’ve also warned that anyone caught taking photos inside the building will be removed from the premises.