Home Estate Planning Copyright trial over Jimi Hendrix given green light against Sony Music

Copyright trial over Jimi Hendrix given green light against Sony Music

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A court ruled that a lawsuit over copyright by the estates of former band members of Jimi Hendrix can proceed to trial against Sony Music.

Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed in 1966 with two other band members: David Redding on bass guitar; and John ‘Mitch’ Mitchell on drums. Together they recorded three studio albums: Are you Experienced; Axis: Bold as Love; and Electric Ladyland.

Hendrix passed away in September 1970, Redding died in May 2003 and Mitchell passed away in November 2008.

The estates of both Redding and Mitchell issued the claim seeking to establish that they own a share of the sound recording copyrights in the albums and also to certain performers’ property rights.

The claimants stated that there was an oral agreement around May 1967 between the band members regarding the ownership and division of monies received by the band. The agreement stated profits should be divided up as: 50 per cent to Hendrix, 25 per cent to Redding and 25 per cent to Mitchell.

Sony Music has a licence from Experience Hendrix (Experience) to exploit, publish and/or distribute the albums

The claimants argued that “such exploitation” has infringed their rights and they should be compensated accordingly.

Sony Music argued that after Hendrix death, his father James ‘Al’ Hendrix was the sole heir to his estate and that included any copyrights or share of copyrights that he owned. Al Hendrix passed away in April 2002.

Sony said that the father assigned all the rights he inherited in relation to the band to Experience Hendrix.

On 8 September 2022, Sony issued an application for summary judgment and/or strike out of the whole claim or alternatively certain parts of it – which is what the judge ruled on Monday.

Sony had previously sought to have the proceedings dismissed by challenging the jurisdiction but on 21 June 2022, Deputy Master Rhys heard the jurisdiction application and dismissed it.

There is also a lawsuit issued in New York but those proceedings stayed pending the resolution of this claim.

In a ruling on Monday, which saw Mr Justice Michael Green address Hendrix as “arguably the greatest rock guitarist ever”, it was decided that this claim should go to trial.

The High Court judge explained that he only has to decide at this stage whether the claimants have a real prospect of succeeding on their claims.

He ruled: “I believe that the claimants have a more than arguable case that the original consent does not include consent to the present exploitation of their performers’ property rights and that this question may well involve a factual inquiry. Accordingly, those claims should be allowed to go to trial”

The judge did strike out a few paragraphs of the claimants particulars of claim and certain claims were withdrawn by the claimants.

The claimants lawyer said the case will now proceed to trial next year.

Lawrence Abramson of Keystone Law, who represented the estates said: “We could not have got a better result. I am pleased that after almost two years of delay, the case will finally move forward, and we can hopefully obtain some justice for the families of Noel and Mitch.”

“No one is denying that Jimi Hendrix was one of, if not, the greatest guitarist of all time. But he didn’t make his recordings alone, and they could not have achieved any success without the contributions of Noel and Mitch,” he added.

While Edward Adams, a director for the claimants, said: “Noel and Mitch died in penury despite being two thirds of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and owning the copyright in the recordings jointly with Jimi. We see our case as carrying a torch for Noel, in particular, who spent over three decades seeking justice”

Sony Music UK said they are not commenting on the ruling at this time.

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