Led Zeppelin can exit ‘Stairway’ suit for $1
Lawyers suing members of rock supergroup Led Zeppelin say their client is willing to settle a lawsuit over the band's most famous song — a claim potentially worth millions of dollars — for just $1.
The catch is that band members Robert Plant and Jimmy Page would have to give dead rocker Randy California a writing credit on the iconic 1971 rock ballad “Stairway to Heaven.” And that's probably worth a lot more than a buck. Such an agreement by Page and Plant, the band's guitarist and singer, respectively, would head off a much anticipated copyright infringement trial scheduled for May 10 in Los Angeles federal court.
"It's always been about credit where credit is due," said attorney Francis Alexander Malofiy, who brought the suit on behalf of Michael Skidmore, administrator of the trust of the late Randy Wolfe, known as Randy California. Wolfe wrote an instrumental track called “Taurus” in the late 1960s for the band Spirit that Malofiy argues was the genesis of the famous Led Zeppelin ballad. He claims Page and Plant copied it in their finger-picked opening of “Stairway to Heaven.”
A deal on those terms would mean sharing future income from one of the most recognizable rock songs ever written. Malofiy and his co-counsel, Glen Kulik, said they would agree to such a settlement, speaking after a pre-trial hearing in Los Angeles on Monday.
Lawyers for Led Zeppelin argue that any similarity between the songs was limited to a musical structure that has existed for centuries, and is too commonplace to be entitled to copyright protection. Peter Anderson, a lawyer for Page, Plant, and their record labels, declined to comment after the hearing.
There are a few ways to calculate what's at stake financially. The most recent yardstick is the “Blurred Lines” case, in which a jury in the same court last year ordered musicians Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke to pay $7.4 million for borrowing from Marvin Gaye's “Got to Give It Up.” A judge reduced that amount to about $5.3 million, and the case is now on appeal.
A filing by Malofiy in the Led Zeppelin case cites a 2008 agreement that Page and Plant made with Warner/Chappell Music. Under that deal, the songwriters are getting $60 million over 10 years for the company's right to exploit Stairway and other songs. Malofiy contends that under the three-year statute of limitations governing his lawsuit, at least two-thirds of that amount should be allocated to the infringing period. That would be $40 million.
Skidmore, who runs Wolfe's trust, has said any windfall would support its ongoing mission,the Randy California Project, which supplies musical instruments and lessons to students at low-income schools in Ventura County, Calif.