The filing, in London’s High Court, follows an application for a legal declaration made by Sony Music and the Hendrix estate in a Manhattan federal court last month that would pre-emptively exonerate them of all legal claims.
Hendrix soared to fame in the 1960s after teaming up with British musicians Redding and Mitchell (pictured above with Hendrix, left and right, respectively) to form the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The group split in 1969, although Mitchell reunited with Hendrix several months before the guitarist’s death in August of 1970.
Now, Redding and Mitchell’s heirs claim they own a stake in the band’s music, which includes the classic “Electric Ladyland” album.
In January, Sony Music and Hendrix’s estate – which is comprised of U.S. companies Experience Hendrix LLC and Authentic Hendrix LLC – filed their own claim in New York asking a judge to declare they are not in breach of any copyright. Between them, Hendrix Experience LLC and Authentic Hendrix LLC own Hendrix’s musical catalogue (as well as the musician’s name and image rights) while Sony is the exclusive licensee of his music.
The Hendrix estate and Sony claim that Redding and Mitchell signed away any rights to the music in the early 1970s following Hendrix’s death at 27. However, in a pre-action letter sent by a lawyer for Redding and Mitchell’s estates to Sony Music in the U.K., which Variety has seen, the musicians’ heirs dispute that, saying the contracts do not “operate as a bar to our clients’ claims.”
The reasons for this, they say, are that Sony were not a party to the contract and that, in any case, Redding’s contract does not extend to Hendrix’s heirs while Mitchell’s does but is subject to restrictions. They also argue that any previous contracts and releases signed do not operate as an assignment of rights in the music but are related to royalties and compensation from that time and, if they apply at all, cover only North American exploitation of the music.
The pre-action letter to Sony adds that none of the signed documents or contracts extend to streaming rights or digital media revenue, which “none of the parties would have been able to foresee or contemplate” at the time they were signed. Redding and Mitchell’s lawyer estimates there have been 3 billion streams of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s music and estimates the total amount of revenue from streaming and sales equates to “millions of pounds” per year. He adds that under the terms of Redding and Mitchell’s original agreement with Hendrix, profits were to be divided up three ways, with Hendrix entitled to 50% and Redding and Mitchell each taking 25%.
The U.K. lawsuit seeks a declaration of copyright ownership in the musical works, sound recordings and performers rights (each of which are a separate right invested in the work), a declaration as to whether there has been copyright infringement and, if there has, damages as well as an account of profits plus interest on that figure and legal costs.
It is unclear how the U.K. lawsuit will interact with Sony and the Hendrix’s estate’s pre-emptive claim in New York and it is likely the first matter the courts will deal with before even getting to the copyright issues is jurisdiction.
A spokesperson for Sony did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment by publication time. Redding and Mitchell’s attorney declined to comment.