Jimi Hendrix's estate made headlines last week by filing a lawsuit against the heirs of his former bandmates bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell.
The Hendrix estate's suit was filed preemptively as Redding and Mitchell's heirs claimed that they are due millions in unpaid royalties for something upwards of 3 million digital streams of songs by The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
The Hendrix estate claims legal action on Redding and Mitchell's behalf was barred under the terms of deals the two musicians signed in the mid-'70s. It asked a court for a "declaratory judgment of ownership and non-infringement" to protect the estate against future lawsuits over royalties by Hendrix's collaborators.
Both Redding and Mitchell were paid for giving up their copyright claims in the '70s. But a cease-and-desist letter sent in December to Sony Music on their behalf states that those agreements are no longer valid or enforceable.
The contracts Redding and Mitchell signed in the '70s are described as "broad general releases" of royalties over the band's recordings. They were signed with the understanding that Hendrix's estate would earn royalties in the future from physical album sales and licensing.
Few in the '70s could have conceived of digital streaming platforms for music or predicted the dominance of those platforms in music consumption.
Lawyers for Redding and Mitchell's heirs will likely argue that the broadness of the original contracts does not include revenues generated from digital streaming platforms, which have long since usurped physical record sales.
In their December letter to Sony, lawyers for Redding and Mitchell's heirs say both musicians "died in relative poverty having never received their true entitlement from their works, performances, and founding membership of The Jimi Hendrix Experience."
The Jimi Hendrix Experience issued three hit studio albums between 1967 and 1968. The trio broke up in 1969. Hendrix died the following year in 1970. Redding died in 2003; Mitchell died in 2008.