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Jimi Hendrix Experience dispute should happen in New York, says Sony

By | Published on Monday 20 June 2022

Jimi Hendrix

Sony Music last week told the high court in London that a dispute over the rights in the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings should be heard in the New York courts, because the legal battle centres on agreements signed in the 1970s in the US. And a separate lawsuit in relation to this dispute has already been filed with the courts in New York.

The dispute is between Sony Music and the Jimi Hendrix estate on one side, and UK-based companies representing the estates of the other two members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience band – Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell – on the other. The Redding and Mitchell companies claim that they control rights in the Jimi Hendrix Experience catalogue which are being infringed by the Hendrix estate and its music distribution partner Sony Music.

The Hendrix estate counters that, after Hendrix’s death in 1970, both Redding and Mitchell signed agreements 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”. Neither Redding nor Mitchell ever subsequently raised any issues with those agreements while they were still alive.

But the Redding and Mitchell companies argue that the 1970s agreements didn’t actually see the two musicians assign any rights and only related to revenues generated by the recordings at that time, which obviously didn’t include any digital income. Meanwhile, they also reckon, commitments in the agreements to not subsequently sue only apply to the Hendrix estate, not to any third parties involved in the exploitation the Experience catalogue, such as Sony.

In terms of the legal battle so far, the Redding and Mitchell companies initially sent a cease and desist letter to Sony Music UK. Correctly assuming a lawsuit would follow in the UK courts, the Hendrix estate and Sony Music then got in first by filing legal papers in New York seeking court confirmation that the 1970s agreements were still in force.

The Redding and Mitchell companies then filed their litigation in the UK while also seeking to get the US action dismissed on jurisdiction grounds.

In a February filing, they argued that the New York court didn’t have jurisdiction because they are “English companies that have no contacts with New York of any kind [and] 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”.

For its part, Sony is seeking to have the UK case stayed, insisting that this dispute should be pursued in the US. According to Law360, the major’s legal rep, Robert Howe, told the high court on Friday that “New York is the most appropriate forum to determine the foundational question about who owns the relevant rights”. Therefore the UK lawsuit should be paused at least until the New York litigation has gone through the motions.

Sony also questioned whether the two companies behind the UK lawsuit have actually been assigned the alleged rights they are seeking to enforce in relation to the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings. The major reckons the two companies are special purpose vehicles backed by an unknown party which were set up specifically to pursue this legal action.

Needless to say, the Redding and Mitchell companies continue to argue that this is a dispute in relation to the alleged infringement in the UK of the rights of British musicians under UK copyright law, and therefore the battle should take place in London not New York.

And so the transatlantic legal back and forth continues.