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  • Writer's pictureRosie Burbidge

Can Jimi Hendrix copyright trial go ahead?


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The High Court is set to hear a dispute over the ownership of copyright and performers' rights in recordings made by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (JHE), after a judge rejected an application for summary judgment or strike out.


The case has been brought by the estates of David Noel Redding and John Graham Mitchell, the two other members of JHE alongside Jimi Hendrix himself. They died in 2003 and 2008 respectively.


The claim is against Sony Music Entertainment, which has a licence to the rights from Experience Hendrix, which was assigned rights by Hendrix himself.


The claimants argue that the band members had an oral agreement in around May 1967 whereby profits would be divided in a ratio of 50:25:25 between Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell. In the 1970s, Redding and Mitchell signed releases not to sue the Hendrix estate in return for one-off payments.


Both parties challenge the chain of title to the rights claimed. Parallel proceedings in New York have been stayed pending the outcome of the UK case.


Should the copyright claim be struck out?

Sony argued that the whole claim should be struck out or dismissed for four main reasons, but the judge rejected all of them for the following reasons:


  1. The fact that Jimi Hendrix's estate and JHE are not parties to the claim is merely a procedural issue that can be rectified.

  2. The fact that the claimants had not specified the percentage share of copyright they are claiming did not mean there was no coherent claim.

  3. It would be premature “in the extreme” to say that the claimants cannot establish chain of title at this stage.

  4. The claimants have “a real prospect of succeeding on their case in relation to the Releases and Discontinuances, namely that those documents do not provide a complete defence to the claims, both in copyright and based on performers' property rights”.

However, the judge did agree to strike out some of the Particulars of Claim including allegations regarding “background facts” relating to the 1966 agreement and claims of secondary infringement by Sony in relation to copies it knew were infringing.

What does this mean?

This is likely to be a high-profile case that will clarify issues around copyright ownership and the interpretation of agreements. Given the continuing popularity of Hendrix’s music, it is also commercially significant.


While the judge struck out some specific aspects of the claim, overall his view was that the claimants should be entitled to have their case tested in a full trial. The judgment indicates that claims will only be struck out where they are irrelevant, vague or otherwise very unlikely to succeed.


If you would like more information about copyright infringement or applications for strike out or summary judgment, please get in touch with Rosie.


To find out more about the issues raised in this blog contact Rosie Burbidge, Intellectual Property Partner at Gunnercooke LLP in London - rosie.burbidge@gunnercooke.com


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