Who's suing whom: Hendrix dispute cost pounds 500,000

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A TEN-YEAR-OLD legal dispute over royalties on an album by the late Jimi Hendrix was finally settled last week, after costing Britain's Legal Aid Board an estimated pounds 500,000.

The row was between a tax-shelter company based in Panama called Presentaciones Musicales SA (PMSA), which used to own the rights to the rock star's recordings, and Daniel Secunda, a music agent based in London.

The saga, which has been dubbed "the Bleak House of music industry litigation," started in 1983 when Sony released The Jimi Hendrix Concerts Album, culled from 600 hours of the guitarist's unreleased tapes.

PMSA sued Mr Secunda over his role in putting the album together, and he counter-sued, claiming copyright to the material and demanding commission and expenses for performing his role as an agent.

Mr Secunda was granted legal aid in 1990 to continue to defend himself against PMSA. PMSA meanwhile applied to put itself into voluntary liquidation. Sony kept the royalties pending the case's resolution. Last week Sony Music paid pounds 80,000 to PMSA to settle the claim.

Tony Morris, the music industry lawyer at Marriott Harrison, the media law firm which acted for PMSA, commented: "It is unbelievable that legal aid funded this action at all, let alone the innumerable procedural applications made since 1990. The Legal Aid Board has spent half a million chasing rainbows."

LEGAL ACTION by over 1,200 overseas members of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) over their exclusion from the pounds 450m sale of the RAC's roadside activities is about to spark back into life, after a lull since the summer.

Last week 25 members of the club who were living in the European Union in 1996, and who claim that the RAC failed to inform them of vital rule changes dating back to 1996, launched a joint writ against the RAC. They claim that two years ago the RAC changed its membership rules so that those who lived or worked in the EU no longer had to register themselves as "overseas members."

The point is that only the 12,000 full members of the RAC will be able to receive the pounds 35,000 payout when the roadside service is sold to Cendant of the US. The RAC membership voted to confirm the deal in August. Their definition of full membership excludes all "overseas" members.

The 25 EU members claim that the RAC never informed them of the rule change, which would have permitted them to change their status to full members, making them eligible for a payout.

So far around half a dozen writs have been issued by various overseas member groups, including Ladies, Retired, and those newly returned to the UK.

Today a group of US-based RAC members will attend a hearing in California to decide whether the courts there have the jurisdiction to hear their claim against the RAC.

THE COMPANY that published Sir Louis Blom-Cooper's book The Birmingham Six and Other Cases last year is suing the barrister for funds to cover its own defence costs in the three libel cases that the Birmingham Six have now brought against the publishers in the Dublin courts.

Gerald Duckworth, a publishing company founded over 100 years ago, issued a writ against the noted barrister on 20 November. Sir Louis is also named in two of the libel actions.

When the barrister wrote his book in 1997 he signed a publishing agreement, which Duckworth claims included the provision that the book would contain nothing "objectionable or libellous".

Duckworth claims he signed an indemnity against any "loss, injury or damage including legal costs or expenses as the result of any claim" against them over the book.

In July and August this year the Birmingham Six started libel proceedings. They allege the book is libellous because it suggests they were in fact guilty of the charges which were quashed by the Court of Appeal in March 1991.

Sir Louis served notice last week that he intends to defend Duckworth's claim.