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Former Jimi Hendrix collaborators go legal over Experience catalogue

By | Published on Thursday 10 February 2022

Jimi Hendrix

The estates of Jimi Hendrix’s one-time collaborators have sued Sony Music UK accusing the major – as the licensee of the Hendrix catalogue – of copyright infringement, while also seeking allegedly unpaid royalties.

We knew this dispute was brewing, because last month the Hendrix estate and Sony went to court in New York seeking a declaratory judgement that agreements reached in the 1970s with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell – the other two members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience – were still valid and enforceable.

Those agreements were negotiated in the years after Hendrix’s death in 1970. In them, Redding and Mitchell basically gave up any copyright or royalty claims in relation to recordings made by the Jimi Hendrix Experience in return for “significant monetary consideration”. The so called ‘release agreements’ also included a commitment to never sue the Hendrix estate or its successors.

In its legal filing last month, the Hendrix estate and Sony stressed that neither Redding nor Mitchell ever raised any issues with those agreements prior to their deaths in 2003 and 2008 respectively. And, indeed, at various points they actually collaborated with the companies run by the Hendrix estate on different projects, suggesting there were no grievances between the musicians and the estate.

However, late last year two UK-based limited companies representing the estates of Redding and Mitchell sent a cease-and-desist letter to the London office of Sony Music. They basically claimed to control rights in relation the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings which were being infringed by Sony through the distribution of the band’s music.

The letters also threatened litigation through the UK courts in relation those claims, which is why the Hendrix estate and Sony wanted court confirmation back in the US that the 1970s contracts are still valid, and that said contracts therefore prohibit such legal action.

However, according to Variety, the Redding and Mitchell estates countered in a pre-litigation legal letter sent to Sony that those contracts do not, in fact, stop them from pursuing a lawsuit against Sony Music UK.

First, because the commitment not to sue only applies to the Hendrix estate, not Sony. Secondly, limitations in the contracts (which are slightly different between the Redding and Mitchell agreements) apply, allowing the estates to go legal. Thirdly, there was no assignment of rights in the 1970s deals, instead the agreements related to royalties generated by the recordings at that time, and probably only in North America. And finally, nothing in those contracts applies to digital income.

Legal reps for the two estates reckon that there have been three billion streams of Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings and total digital income for the catalogue runs into millions per year. They also added in their letter that the original deal between the band’s members gave Redding and Mitchell 25% each of any income.

The newly filed UK lawsuit seeks court confirmation regarding ownership of both the song rights and the recording rights in the Jimi Hendrix Experience catalogue, a statement on Redding and Mitchell’s concurrent performer rights, and a statement on whether Sony has been infringing rights controlled by the Redding and Mitchell estates.

So that’s all good fun, is it not?