Court Rejects Sony's Motion for Summary Judgment in Noel Redding Estate vs. Sony Music Copyright Dispute

Citation: [2024] EWHC 128 (Ch)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of Noel Redding Estate Limited & Anor v Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited, the High Court of Justice engaged in thorough analysis of various legal issues that arose from claims by the estates of deceased Jimi Hendrix Experience band members seeking ownership shares in sound recording copyrights. The court addressed procedural and substantive questions, applying principles from partnership law to intellectual property and considerations concerning limitations periods for claims.

Key Facts

The plaintiffs, companies representing the estates of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, two members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, claimed rights to a portion of the sound recording copyrights of the band’s recordings. These rights were allegedly infringed upon by Sony’s exploitation of these recordings under a license from Experience Hendrix L.L.C.

Sony sought to dispose of the case early by applying for summary judgment or to have certain parts of the claim struck out. The court considered several distinct grounds for Sony’s application, including failure to comply with procedural rules, lack of a coherent claim for relief, challenges to the chain of title, and the effect of previous Releases and Discontinuances agreed by Redding and Mitchell.

Several legal principles featured prominently in the court’s analysis:

  1. Procedural Compliance (CPR 19.3): The court examined whether all parties with a joint entitlement to the remedy claimed, such as copyrights, must be joined to the action. It concluded that Sony was not prejudiced by the non-joinder of the purported copyright owners and that such non-joinder would not necessitate striking out of the claim.

  2. Coherence of Claim for Relief (CPR 16.2): The court considered whether the claimants adequately specified the remedy sought, finding that the claim for a declaration of copyright ownership was sufficiently coherent to proceed in the absence of a specified share in the copyright.

  3. Chain of Title: The claimants were required to show that they had succeeded to the rights in the recordings owned by Redding and Mitchell. The court determined that the evidence presented provided at least a real prospect of success in establishing the chain of title.

  4. Effect of Releases and Discontinuances: The court reviewed Releases signed by Redding and Mitchell, determining whether they relinquished all claims to the recordings. Interpreted under New York law, this issue was left to be resolved at trial, with expert evidence permitted to aid in its determination.

  5. Secondary Infringement (CDPA sections 23 and 24): The allegation of secondary infringement was dismissed as the claimants were not able to credibly suggest that Sony had reason to believe the copies of the Recordings in question were infringing.

Outcomes

The court denied Sony’s motion for summary judgment on the entirety of the claim, permitting the plaintiffs to move forward on claims related to copyright and performers’ property rights. However, certain specific claims within the Particulars of Claim were dismissed or struck out:

  1. Secondary Infringement Claims: Based on the lack of evidence to meet the knowledge requirement, claims of secondary infringement were dismissed.

  2. Paragraphs Relating to the 1966 Recording Agreement: Contentions that the 1966 Recording Agreement was entered into without representation and was unduly onerous were struck out as they did not form the basis of a claim to set aside the agreement and were not directly relevant to the pleaded causes of action.

  3. Claims under Section 191HB of the CDPA: These claims were withdrawn as they pertained to rights accruing to the collecting society, not the claimants.

  4. Claims of Beneficial Ownership and Unjust Enrichment: The court accepted the claimants’ withdrawal of these claims.

Conclusion

The decision in Noel Redding Estate Limited & Anor v Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited illustrates the court’s commitment to ensuring only viable claims are advanced to trial while recognizing the complex nature of intellectual property and performers’ rights in legacy content. The court balanced procedural rigor with a recognition of the substantive rights that may be established at trial, signaling the importance of careful pleadings and supporting evidence in claims relating to historical intellectual property rights.

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