Led Zeppelin lose fight for legal fees in ‘Stairway’ case

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Los Angeles (AP) — Led Zeppelin may have won the copyright war over their creation of “Stairway to Heaven,” but they lost their battle last week to recoup nearly US$800,000 in defense fees.

Judge R. Gary Klausner ruled that the band’s songwriters, record label and associated companies were not entitled to legal fees and other costs because the copyright lawsuit against them was not frivolous.

Singer Robert Plant (left) and guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin perform at the Live Aid concert at Philadelphia’s J.F.K. Stadium in this July 13, 1985 file photo. (AP)
Singer Robert Plant (left) and guitarist Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin perform at the Live Aid concert at Philadelphia’s J.F.K. Stadium in this July 13, 1985 file photo. (AP)

A Los Angeles federal jury in June found that guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant did not lift the introduction of “Stairway” from an obscure instrumental written by the late Randy Wolfe, founder of the band Spirit.

The trust for Wolfe, better known as Randy California, claimed Page and Plant were familiar with his work and stole a riff from the short tune “Taurus” that repeats throughout the first two minutes of their 1971 classic rock anthem.

Wolfe’s trust had been seeking credit for the song and millions of dollars in damages.  But jurors found the tunes were not similar enough for Led Zeppelin to have violated the 1968 copyright protection of “Taurus.”

Attorneys for Led Zeppelin sought legal and other fees totaling $793,000 after insurance companies rejected covering such an old claim.

They argued the lawsuit was frivolous, it was intended to shake down the rock stars for money and that awarding defense costs would deter future meritless copyright claims.

Klausner rejected those arguments, saying he had found the lawsuit had enough merit to go to trial and there was no evidence the plaintiff “harbored nefarious motives.”

While Led Zeppelin demonstrated a need for compensation after winning and showed that the plaintiff’s attorney behaved badly, Klausner said it was at his discretion whether to award fees.  He said the scales tilted more in favor of Wolfe’s trustee.

  • Swagman

    Fees cases – the story doesn’t explain – look at not ONLY whether the case was frivolous, but also the respective financial positions of the parties, among other things. It was likely found that Led Zeppelin and its members were millionaires many times over while the douchebag that filed the suit (or his “estate”) weren’t worth much. That would be akin to squeezing blood from a rock with an $800k judgment in fees against a loser. If a judge sees any way to lessen the impact of such a result, they will every time. Not saying the douche didn’t deserve a slap down, but the judge probably found such would be fruitless. The loss was enough.