Rock legends dragged into a messy legal battle over decades-old recordings
One of the biggest collections of historical rock and roll material in the world has become embroiled in a legal dispute with some of rock’s biggest names.
We generally look pretty favourably on any institution that sets out to immortalise the artform of rock ‘n’ roll, but when you end up with a situation that pits it against the very rock stars who are meant to be honoured there, it’s not an ideal situation to say the least.
That’s what we’re looking at here, sadly, as one of the biggest collections of historical rock and roll material in the world has become embroiled in a legal dispute with some of rock’s biggest names – all over some decades-old concert recordings.
At the centre of the storm is Wolfgang Vault’s, a repository dedicated to the collection, restoration and preservation of important pieces of music history, but of course it makes a little money along the way. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, it was once described by The Wall Street Journal as “the most important collection of rock memorabilia and recordings ever assembled,” and valued at over 100 million USD, but it’s those recordings that have dragged The Rolling Stones’ legendary guitarist Keith Richards, The Who’s axeman Pete Townshend, R.E.M frontman Michael Stipe, and Talking Heads’ David Byrne into a messy legal battle.
The case stems back to 2015 when the National Music Publishers’ Association led its members to file suit against the company’s founder William Sagan, The Hollywood Reporter details, claiming that it doesn’t hold the requisite licenses to be streaming these recording. Sagan countersued for defamation, of course, and the case has become more and more complicated from there. His company has gone on the offensive, demanding depositions of a host of the musos whose concert recordings are in question, which has dragged the aforementioned Richards and Stipe into the battle.
It’s a complex case with all sorts of implications over issues of copyright, with Sagan’s side arguing that by allowing their concerts to be recorded, musicians created an implied license for the recordings to be replayed and redistributed at a later date, as well as pointing to a complete lack of action from the artists and apparent rightsholders until very recently.
Originally seeking to rope in dozens of rock stars with depositions, Sagan and Co. ended up settling for only the big, Rolling Stones-sized fish listed above. Not quite feeling like being caught up in court proceedings, Richards et al have employed various methods to avoid having their day in court, and the case has raised more and more questions over who, if anyone, can actually claim ownership over these recordings. As of now, the cranky guitarist won’t have to appear in court over the matter, but he will have to answer 25 written questions – poor Keef.
You can read more details about the case on The Hollywood Reporter, and it’ll certainly be an interesting one to watch unfold – perhaps in a decade our mobile phone recordings of that Kanye show will be coming under a similar level of scrutiny.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.