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Dispute over Jimi Hendrix Experience catalogue should be heard in UK, say UK-based estates of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell

By | Published on Thursday 24 February 2022

Jimi Hendrix

Companies representing the estates of Jimi Hendrix Experience members Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell have requested that legal action filed with the courts in New York by the Hendrix estate and Sony Music be dismissed on jurisdiction grounds. That legal action seeks court confirmation that agreements reached between the Hendrix estate and Mitchell and Redding back in the early 1970s are still in force.

The UK-based companies representing the Redding and Mitchell estates have filed their own litigation in the English courts, specifically against Sony Music UK. They claim that the two estates control rights in the Jimi Hendrix Experience catalogue – which is distributed by Sony – and that those rights are being infringed while loads of royalties go unpaid.

Before they filed their lawsuits, the Redding and Mitchell companies issued a cease-and-desist to Sony in London. That prompted the major in the US – alongside the companies that manage the Hendrix estate – to file papers with the New York courts.

They argue that, after Hendrix’s death in 1970, both Redding and Mitchell signed agreements with the Hendrix estate via which they basically gave up any copyright or royalty claims in relation to recordings made by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in return for “significant monetary consideration”. Those agreements also included a commitment not to sue the Hendrix estate.

With the Hendrix companies and Sony correctly assuming that the cease-and-desist from the Redding and Mitchell companies meant a lawsuit was incoming in the UK, they preempted that action by going to court in New York seeking confirmation that those 1970s agreements were still in force. Those agreements, it’s argued, dispute all the claims being made by the Redding and Mitchell companies.

The Hendrix companies also note that neither Redding nor Mitchell ever raised any issues with their 1970s agreements prior to their deaths in 2003 and 2008 respectively. And, indeed, at various points they actually collaborated with those companies on different projects, suggesting there were no grievances between the musicians and the Hendrix estate.

With legal action now filed in relation to this dispute on both sides of the Atlantic, the Redding and Mitchell companies reckon that the New York courts should decline to get involved on the basis that this is a dispute over English copyrights claimed by English companies representing the estates of English musicians. And while the agreements cited by the Hendrix side were signed in the US, that’s not grounds enough to pursue this dispute through the American courts.

The two companies say in their new legal filing with the New York courts that they are “English companies that have no contacts with New York of any kind. They are the assignees in England of copyrights, performance rights, and intellectual property rights from the respective estates of two English musicians, David Noel Redding and John ‘Mitch’ Mitchell”.

Setting out the core dispute, the filing goes on: “The parties vigorously dispute the ownership of those rights. Plaintiffs claim they – not [Redding, Mitchell or the companies set up by their estates] – are the sole owners of the copyrights and intellectual property rights in question. [The Redding and Mitchel companies] claim they acquired certain copyrights, performance rights, and intellectual property rights in the works under English law, including rights that did not even exist until 1988 at the earliest”.

Bringing it back to jurisdiction, it continues: “Although plaintiffs dispute ownership of the rights in question, they admit they intend to rely on English law – including the Copyright Act 1956, the Copyright, Designs And Patents Act 1988, and the Copyright And Related Rights And Regulations 1996 SI 2967 (the latter two of which were not even in existence when the [1970s agreements] were signed) – in this action”.

As for the 1970s agreements, although those came at the end of a legal dispute in New York, that doesn’t mean the New York courts automatically have jurisdiction in relation to any dispute linked to those agreements, the Redding and Mitchell companies add. Neither agreement “purported to reserve jurisdiction” to any New York court, they argue, nor did they “purport to subject” Redding or Mitchell “to the continuing personal jurisdiction”.

With all that in mind, the Redding and Mitchell companies want the court in New York to dismiss the legal filing made by the Hendrix companies and Sony on jurisdiction grounds.

Or – if the New York court reckons it does in fact have jurisdiction – it should still “dismiss this action under the doctrine of forum non conveniens in favour of the pending action in the United Kingdom”. That being the doctrine that a case should be dismissed in one court if there is “an appropriate and more convenient” alternative court where a dispute can be heard.

We await to see how the Hendrix estate and Sony respond.