The trial over whether Led Zeppelin stole the opening riff of “Stairway to Heaven” from a 1967 instrumental will be quick and focused and won’t include testimony about the band’s drinking and drug use, a federal judge said.
Each side will get 10 hours to argue its case before a Los Angeles jury next month, U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner said in court Monday. He tentatively granted most requests by lawyers for band members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, as well as record labels, to exclude evidence they claim would be irrelevant or prejudicial.
Many of the proposed witnesses would be repetitive and unnecessary, the judge said, adding that his time restrictions will be force the lawyers to present a clearer, more focused case to the jurors.
“If you use up your 10 hours, you’re out — that’s it,” the judge said.
The case is scheduled for trial May 10. The copyright infringement lawsuit was brought by Michael Skidmore, the administrator of the trust of the late Randy Wolfe. Wolfe, whose artist name was Randy California, wrote an instrumental track called “Taurus” that was recorded by his band Spirit in 1967. The lawsuit claims Page and Plant copied “Taurus” for the famous opening of “Stairway to Heaven.”
Page and Plant’s appearance at the trial was thrown into doubt by Skidmore’s lawyer, Francis Malofiy, who said at the hearing he hasn’t been able to assure their presence. After the hearing, Malofiy said he didn’t know whether the defense would call Page and Plant to testify.
Skidmore and the trust, if they win, would only be entitled under copyright law to a share of “Stairway to Heaven” revenue for the three years before the case was filed. They also would be entitled to royalties going forward. Malofiy declined to comment on the possible size of a verdict.
“The most important thing is to receive the credit,” he said after the hearing. “Give credit where credit is due.”
Peter Anderson, a lawyer for Led Zeppelin and the record labels, declined to comment after the hearing.
The case is Skidmore v. Led Zeppelin, 15-cv-03462, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
— With assistance from Vernon Silver.