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Wolfgang’s Vault Hit With Class Action Copyright Suit

When entrepreneur William Sagan opened up “Wolfgang’s Vault” in 2006, and began streaming a massive archive of concert recordings online, he also opened up knotty legal dispute.

Sagan has been sued a half dozen times over the years, including by the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin, for alleged copyright infringement. The latest to get in on the action is Greg Kihn, of the power pop act the Greg Kihn Band, known for early ’80s hits “Jeopardy” and “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em).”

In a suit filed in San Francisco federal court on Sept. 14, Kihn alleges that Wolfgang’s Vault is selling access to more than a dozen live concert recordings from 1976 through 1986, as well as Kihn’s appearances on the “King Biscuit Flower Hour” radio show.

Sagan is also currently fighting a federal suit in New York against six groups of music publishers. Kihn’s suit is filed as a class action, and seeks to represent the artists whose recordings appear on the site.

In 2002, Sagan acquired the archive of San Francisco concert promoter Bill Graham, said to be one of the largest private collections of concert recordings. Sagan supplemented his holdings by acquiring a dozen other collections, including the King Biscuit radio show. Wolfgang’s Vault sells access to the recordings for $39.99 per year.

In the dispute with the music publishers, Sagan’s attorneys have alleged that he has paid out royalties under compulsory licenses, and that the plaintiffs failed to object to that arrangement in a timely fashion. The publishers’ attorneys have countered that the performances are ineligible for compulsory licenses because they were originally made without the artists’ permission and because Wolfgang’s Vault failed to give advance notice as the law requires. Both sides are seeking summary judgment in their favor.

Sagan’s attorney, Michael Elkin, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new lawsuit. Neville Johnson, of Johnson & Johnson LLP, and Daniel Warshaw, of Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, LLP, are representing the plaintiffs.

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