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John Lydon loses legal battle over Sex Pistols band agreement

By | Published on Tuesday 24 August 2021

John Lydon

John Lydon yesterday lost his high profile legal battle over whether or not he has a veto right to stop the use of Sex Pistols music in an upcoming TV series. The high court in London ruled that an old band agreement was still in force which means a licence can be issued if a majority of the band’s members agree.

The sync deal dispute relates to a new TV programme called ‘Pistol’, based on the memoir of Sex Pistols member Steve Jones. He and fellow band member Paul Cook went legal after Lydon sought to block the issuing of a sync licence allowing Sex Pistols music to be used in the show.

The case centred on a decades old band agreement which said that a sync deal of this kind could be issued if a majority of the band’s members agreed. Lydon said he didn’t remember ever signing that agreement and that legal documents terrify him. But, he added, whatever he signed back in the day, the band had always operated on the basis that licensing deals needed unanimous approval.

Jones and Cook conceded that they’d never enforced the majority rule contained in that old band agreement before, partly to avoid falling out with Lydon. However, they argued, that didn’t mean the agreement wasn’t still valid.

And yesterday judge Anthony Mann agreed. He added that at the time the agreement was signed, Lydon had good legal advisors in both the UK and the US, as well as management, who would have made sure he was aware of what he was signing up to.

The judge wrote in his ruling that: “Mr Lydon must have been fully advised about the [band agreement] and its consequences. On his side he had an English lawyer, a US attorney and his manager … it is impossible to believe that he did not know what its effect was and I reject the suggestion made by him that he did not really know or appreciate its effect”.

“It is highly likely that, even if he did not read [the agreement] himself”, the judge added, “it will have been explained to him and he will have understood its effects. The inherent likelihood of that is reinforced by his own evidence about his concerns to protect the Sex Pistols’ legacy. A man with those concerns, which I accept he had, would expect to be made to understand important documents that he was signing. He would not have been cavalier about that”.

The judge also noted that Lydon had given up at a lot of control over his music previously through the record and publishing deals he had signed, so therefore it wasn’t impossible to believe that he would have likewise foregone a veto right when negotiating a deal with his bandmates.

Welcoming yesterday’s ruling, Jones and Cook said in a statement that the judgement “brings clarity to our decision-making and upholds the band members’ agreement on collective decision-making”. On the legal battle they added: “It has not been a pleasant experience, but we believe it was necessary to allow us to move forward and hopefully work together in the future with better relations”.