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New York judge pauses Jimi Hendrix Experience litigation pending outcome of UK lawsuit

By | Published on Monday 22 May 2023

Jimi Hendrix

A New York court last week paused a lawsuit filed as part of a dispute over the Jimi Hendrix Experience catalogue pending the outcome of litigation related to the same dispute in the London courts. It follows an appeal court ruling in the UK last month which said that the London lawsuit should be allowed to proceed despite the connected legal action in the US.

The Jimi Hendrix estate and its label partner Sony Music is on one side in this dispute, with companies representing the estates of the two other members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience – Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell – on the other side.

The Redding and Mitchell companies claim that they control rights in relation to the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings catalogue which are being infringed by the Hendrix estate and Sony.

But the latter parties counter that, after Hendrix’s death in 1970, both Redding and Mitchell signed agreements in which they gave up any claims to rights and royalties stemming from the Jimi Hendrix Experience in return for “significant monetary consideration”.

After lawyers for the Redding and Mitchell companies contacted Sony Music in the UK last year to make their formal claims in relation to the Jimi Hendrix Experience recordings, the Hendrix estate and Sony in the US filed legal proceedings in the New York courts. They want the courts there to confirm that those 1970s agreements are still in force.

The Redding and Mitchell companies then subsequently filed their own lawsuit with the courts in London. Sony has been trying hard to get that case paused, arguing that the 1970s agreements are at the core of this dispute and they are subject to New York law.

But the Redding and Mitchell companies argue that the dispute is fundamentally about rights under UK copyright law. Plus they are mainly concerned with the digital exploitation of the Hendrix recordings which, they reckon, falls outside the scope of the 1970s agreements.

The UK courts have generally sided with the Redding and Mitchell companies in terms of whether or not the case filed on this side of the Atlantic should be paused.

After Sony took the matter to the English court of appeal, judge Edwin Johnson ruled last month that – while the 1970s agreements are “a central aspect in the dispute” – New York law is only relevant to those agreements and “not to the entirety of the claims made in the action or, as it seems to me, to the entirety of the claim”.

With UK judges seemingly happy for the lawsuit in the London courts to proceed, the judge overseeing the litigation in New York – Ronnie Abrams – has now decided that it’s the US legal action that should be paused.

For starters, Abrams notes in her ruling, although the US lawsuit was technically filed first, the legal dispute actually began in the UK.

“The parallel litigation in England effectively commenced more than a month prior to the filing of this action”, she writes, “when the Redding and Mitchell estates sent a letter of claim to Sony UK on 8 Dec, 2021, marking the start of the dispute between the parties in both fora”.

“Moreover”, she goes on, “defendants’ latest letters reiterate … that the litigation centres on estate matters in England, general release documents located in England, and copyright and intellectual property rights under English law. It can thus hardly be said that the courts of England are not an adequate forum in which the parallel proceeding may proceed”.

The Redding and Mitchell companies actually asked Abrams to dismiss the US lawsuit on the basis that the dispute is also being fought out in the UK courts.

However, the judge is pausing – or staying – rather than dismissing the litigation filed by the Hendrix estate and Sony in her court. And, she adds in her ruling, “because the court here merely stays, rather than dismisses, this action, plaintiffs will not be prejudiced”.

With that in mind, Abrams concludes: “For the foregoing reasons, this action is hereby stayed pending the resolution of defendants’ action in England”.