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UK Court Affirms Experience Hendrix Rights

LONDON (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — On May 24, the Court of Appeal in London upheld the 2006 decision of the English High Court rejecting the claims of John Hillman to ownership of interests in the music of Jimi Hendrix. The ruling reaffirmed the validity and effectiveness of the Jimi Hendrix UK performers’ rights owned by Experience Hendrix, the Hendrix family music company based in Seattle, Washington. Since its founding in 1995 by James Allen (“Al”) Hendrix, Jimi’s father and sole heir, Experience Hendrix has administered the worldwide Jimi Hendrix music and trademark rights.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Hillman had served as attorney for Michael Jeffery, Jimi’s manager, in which capacity he oversaw the administration of Yameta, a Bahamian tax shelter company which served as a conduit for some of the moneys earned by Jimi and other artists managed by Jeffery. After the deaths of both Jimi and Jeffery in the early 1970’s, Yameta terminated operations and dissolved; Hillman asserted no ownership interest in Hendrix at that time. In the early 1990’s, Hillman began to claim that Yameta had really owned the Jimi Hendrix music rights, and that these supposed rights had transferred to Hillman. In the early 2000’s Hillman licensed these alleged rights to a UK record company, Purple Haze Records, which commenced distribution of Hendrix recordings. Experience Hendrix obtained UK court judgments enjoining this distribution, giving rise to Hillman’s appeal that has now been rejected.

In its opinion, the Court of Appeal rejected Hillman’s argument that the UK performers’ rights law protects only the performances of artists who are still alive, or were still alive when the current Copyright Designs and Patents Act ("CDPA") was enacted in 1988. The Court noted that UK performers’ rights law prior to enactment of the CDPA protected the estates of deceased artists, and nothing in the CDPA or its legislative history indicated any intent to change this. The Court also affirmed the trial court factual determination that Yameta was simply a management company working for Jimi, rather than — as had been argued by Hillman — an employer for whom Jimi was working and recording. The Court said that the agreement between Jimi and Yameta had nothing to do with copyright or performer’s rights vesting in Yameta and the idea that copyright in any musical work composed by Jimi Hendrix would belong to Yameta was absurd. Thus, even if Hillman were to be viewed as a successor to Yameta, he would have no rights in Jimi’s work because Yameta never held any rights.

The Court’s decision also effectively puts an end to another Hillman associated project, a proposed biographical film based on Hendrix’s life and career. Dragonslayer Films, a fledgling independent company, claimed to rely on a license from Hillman for the necessary music rights for this project. Experience Hendrix has not granted any license or approval for this film and continues its long-standing policy to take all necessary steps to oppose any unauthorized use of Jimi’s songs or performances in any media. – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers