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Jimi Hendrix estate goes to court following royalty claim from former Experience collaborators

By | Published on Thursday 20 January 2022

Jimi Hendrix

The Jimi Hendrix estate and Sony Music have filed legal papers with the courts in New York seeking a declaratory judgement that agreements reached with other members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience in the early 1970s are still in force. The move follows threats in the UK by the estates of those former Experience members – Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell – to sue for supposedly unpaid royalties.

The agreements that the New York courts are being asked to confirm were signed by Redding and Mitchell in 1973 and 1974 respectively, and were the result of negotiations that occurred following Hendrix’s death in 1970.

Under those agreements, 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.

According to the companies that manage the Hendrix Estate – Experience Hendrix and Authentic Hendrix – neither Redding nor Mitchell ever raised any subsequent issues with those agreements until their deaths in 2003 and 2008 respectively. And, indeed, at various points they actually collaborated with the Hendrix companies on different projects.

However, last month 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, the major being the worldwide licensee of the recordings controlled by the Hendrix companies. In the letter the two musicians’ estates basically claim rights in relation to the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings which, they argue, are being infringed by Sony through its exploitation of said music.

In their legal filing with the New York courts, the Hendrix companies and Sony state: “The claim letter … acknowledges the Mitchell Release and Redding Release, but threatens legal action on the basis, inter alia, that these broad New York general releases and convents not to sue are unenforceable against defendants, noting (among other things) that ‘neither [Sony] nor our clients [the companies set up by the two estates] were parties to the release agreements’”.

“The claim letter threatens litigation on the basis, inter alia, that they are owed damages estimated in the ‘millions of dollars’ going back to 1973”, the filing continues, before noting that “since 1974, neither defendants nor their estates have ever objected to or made any claims related to any rights in connection with the copyright or other rights or interests in the recordings, or payments in connection with the recordings”.

With all that in mind, the Hendrix companies and Sony want the New York courts to declare that the 1970s agreements are “valid and enforceable” and therefore the claims now being made by the Redding and Mitchell estates “are without legal foundation”. Such a declaratory judgement, they add, “will provide relief and terminate the insecurity that has been created by the [recent] claims and threats of litigation”.

Of course, there are some complications here, given that those threats of litigation are being made in the UK, while the agreements the Hendrix companies want to enforce were signed in the US.

However, the legal filing also says: “To the extent that there may be additional issues which implicate foreign law, it is beyond cavil that United States federal courts have the authority to resolve disputes which require the application of foreign substantive law including but not limited to United Kingdom copyright law”. Therefore: “This court can conclusively rule on and affirm rights, duties and obligations of the parties”.

We await to see how things progress in the New York court, and whether any legal action will indeed follow on this side of the Atlantic.

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