Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Led Zeppelin Defends Iconic ‘Stairway’ on Courtroom Keyboard

  • Musicologist taps out tunes for jurors, compares pop songs
  • ‘Stairway to Heaven’ credit, revenue share at stake in trial

Led Zeppelin’s opening act in its trial defense over claims its rock classic “Stairway to Heaven” ripped off an earlier song was a musicologist tapping out the tunes on an electronic piano.

Lawrence Ferrara played the melodies of the jazz standard “My Funny Valentine” and “Michelle” by the Beatles among other songs to illustrate that the descending chromatic progression of the opening bars of “Stairway" is a common element of pop music.

“The similarities are limited,” Ferrara said in response to questions by a Led Zeppelin lawyer, Peter Anderson, regarding the obscure 1968 instrumental “Taurus” by the group Spirit.

In the Los Angeles federal court trial, a trust for the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe is seeking a songwriting credit for him and potentially millions of dollars in royalties. The trust ended its presentation to the jury Friday, with a witness testifying that damages in the trial should be based on revenue from the song of $58.5 million since 2011, including album sales.

Friday’s testimony in the copyright trial followed that of witnesses including Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who told jurors “Taurus” was alien to him when he first heard it a few years ago. Page said he only became aware of Spirit’s song after his son-in-law alerted him to comparisons posted on the Internet between Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic and the California band’s track.

Page, 72, said he would have remembered the Spirit instrumental if he had heard it before because of its memorable orchestral opening. He was stopped by U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner from answering questions about similarities between the two recordings because any copyright infringement would only pertain to the sheet music of “Taurus,” not to the version that appeared in Spirit’s debut album.

On Friday, Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones testified briefly. He told jurors that he worked on the arrangement of “Stairway” with Page. He said he had no Spirit records and hadn’t been aware at the time that Spirit played at a 1968 concert in Denver where Led Zeppelin was the opening band and made its first U.S. appearance.

The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, 15-cv-03462, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

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