Jimi Hendrix's Successor Loses Appeal in Concert Film Dispute

The case centers on a pic about the musician's 1969 performances at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Courtesy of Photofest
Jimi Hendrix

A long-gestating Jimi Hendrix concert film could someday see a wide release, after a California appeals court held on Monday that one of the rightsholders didn't violate a joint production deal by refusing to accept a limited distribution offer.

"For almost a half-century, the two parties (or their predecessors) who own the rights to this film and its accompanying soundtrack have been lost in a purple haze of false starts and litigation," begins the decision. 

The concerts in question, a 1969 series at London's Royal Albert Hall, happened less than two years before the icon's death. At the time, Hendrix's manager signed a deal allowing Gerald Goldstein and Steve Gold to film the tour for a concert film. More than four decades later, the successors to the contract struck the deal at the center of the dispute. Experience Hendrix signed on behalf of the artist, while The Last Experience signed on behalf of Goldstein, Gold and Hendrix's manager.

In 2010, Experience Hendrix and The Last Experience agreed to produce the film for theatrical release — but the deal fell apart over distribution and that prompted this 2011 lawsuit.

The artist's successor asked the court to rescind the contract and sought $4.1 million in restitution. Los Angeles Superior Court judge Mark V. Mooney ruled against Experience Hendrix in 2015 and ordered it to pay more than $300,000 in attorney's fees.

Experience Hendrix appealed, arguing that Mooney misread the contract, made unsupported factual findings and erred in awarding fees. The 2nd district appellate panel disagreed and affirmed the lower court's decision.

Among the facts of the case cited, justice Brian M. Hoffstadt writes, "Jimi Hendrix is one of the best guitarists, if not the best, in the history of rock music."

Continues Hoffstadt: "By this time, the parties had already made several attempts to cooperate in producing the film that had gone nowhere or ended in litigation. Although they 'hated each other's guts,' the 2010 Agreement was a further effort to move forward in finishing and releasing the film."

The parties agreed to share all decisions regarding the exploitation of the film, and to split the profits 50/50 after Experience Hendrix recouped $4.1 million in legal costs from suing the London Times to stop it from releasing bootlegged audio from the shows.

Sony Pictures had offered to distribute the film with a limited release in five to 20 screens across five to 10 cities. That wasn't enough for Goldstein, who had his mind set on a wide release in at least 1,500 theaters and rejected the offer.

Experience Hendrix sued for restitution, claiming that Goldstein committed fraud by not explicitly stating that he would accept nothing less than a wide release. Last Experience then countersued, claiming the artist's successor breached their contract.

Mooney granted summary judgment in favor of Experience Hendrix on the cross-complaint and the original suit went to trial. The court found that Goldstein's rejection of Sony's offer did not constitute a breach of the 2010 agreement, noting that it "required the parties to agree to any specific terms on the distribution of the film."

Hoffstadt, along with acting presiding justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst and justice Victoria Chavez, found that Mooney did not err in that decision.

"Goldstein's vision for a wide release of the film may have been unrealistic and thus, as the trial court assumed, 'not a sound business decision,' but there is substantial evidence in the record to support the finding that Goldstein's longstanding vision was not aimed at altering the terms of the 2010 Agreement or enriching Goldstein under the terms of any side agreement," writes Hoffstadt in the decision, which is posted in full below. 

The Last Experience was represented by Brent Blakely and Craig Huber of Blakely Law Group, and Experience Hendrix was represented by LeClair Ryan, Ed McPherson and Christiane Kinney of McPherson Rane. 

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