Live Nation Litigation Over Rolling Stones Tour Can Move Forward

Michael Cohl, the embattled mega-producer currently contending with delays over Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark as well as a multi-million dollar fight with former employer, Live Nation, has gotten something to fall his way. On Monday, a federal judge in Florida agreed to let Cohl sue Live Nation over rights to promote the next Rolling Stones tour.

We broke the news in October that Live Nation was suing its former chairman, Cohl, for more than $5 million for allegedly violating the terms of a 2008 agreement. The deal was highly unusual. Cohl was to pay $9.85 million for "non-compete relief," meaning he could exit Live Nation and continue working with and promoting tours by the Stones, Pink Floyd, Barbara Streisand, and others. Live Nation claimed it was owed money from that arrangement.

In January, Cohl countersued claiming that Live Nation had first breached the 2008 agreement by interfering with his potential involvement in a tour that would mark the Stones' 50th anniversary.

Mick Jagger & Co. hadn't firmly committed to such a tour, but in early 2010, the band began entertaining bids from promoters.

Cohl met with band members, but then got this letter from Live Nation on February 8, 2010:

"This letter is formal notice, pursuant to Section 1.9(b) of the [Letter] Agreement, that Live Nation has determined, in its reasonable judgment, that you will be unable to successfully negotiate the acquisition of the rights to promote the next Rolling Stones tour.

Therefore, as provided in Section 1.9 (b) of the [Letter] Agreement, Live Nation now has the free and unfettered right to hereafter bid or seek to obtain directly the right to promote the next concert tour of the Rolling Stones, whenever that may occur, for its own account without any duty to share, co-promote or jointly pursue with Cohl any such rights that Live Nation may acquire."

Soon after, Live Nation executive vp Michael Rowles is said to have sent Cohl an e-mail clarifying that its former chairman wasn't "precluded from trying to acquire the rights" to the tour, but that if he decided to submit a bid, he "must either obtain [Live Nation's] approval of any bids prior to submitting them to the band or...must be sure that the band is aware that any such bid is subject to subsequent approval and change."

In Cohl's countersuit against Live Nation, which calls the prospective Rolling Stones tour "the crown jewel" of the allegedly breached agreement he made with Live Nation, Cohl asserts that Live Nation damaged his reputation in the interest of undercutting him in negotiations with the Rolling Stones.

For their part, the Rolling Stones told the warring parties they didn't want to get in the middle of this spat. After we first reported the litigation, the band sent us a statement that Cohl was "neither their representative nor their promoter" and it had "no firm plans to tour at this time."

Some might find it strange there's a lawsuit over a Rolling Stones tour that hasn't taken place. Others might find it odd that top industry folk were carving up rights on the tour before the band even entertained such an endeavor. (According to the 2008 agreement, Live Nation was to get 33% of profits from the tour and Cohl was to get 66%.) Nevertheless,  U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia Altonaga sees enough to let this dispute go forward.

"The mere statement by the Rolling Stones that they have no firm plans for a tour does not, at this stage in the proceedings, negate Defendants’ claim of damages," she wrote on Monday in an opinion rejecting Live Nation's motion to dismiss Cohl's counterclaims. "That the Rolling Stones may not have made any firm plans does not mean they have not engaged in negotiations regarding promotional rights for potential tours. Moreover, Defendants’ claim of reputational damages sustained as a result of Live Nation’s breach is not dependent on whether or not the Rolling Stones have actual plans for a tour."

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