Timeless tracks, untimely justice? Jimi Hendrix bandmates' estates may sue Sony for royalties

London's court has sided against Sony and with the estates of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, paving the way for a 2025 lawsuit
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
The Jimi Hendrix Experience / Mark and Colleen Hayward/GettyImages

London's High Court has ruled that the estates of the British bassist and drummer who were part of Jimi Hendrix's band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, can proceed their lawsuit against Sony Music Entertainment . This legal action may seem peculiarly late, as the two musicians are deceased, but their estates nevertheless aim to secure a portion of the rights to three iconic 1960s albums. Bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, who joined the band in 1966, played integral roles in creating the studio albums. The two musicians "have not been compensated for their work and both died in relative poverty," according to language from the 2022 lawsuit.

The three albums in question, Are You Experienced, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland, were released in 1967 and 1968, and feature Redding and Mitchell. Also, live performances (and footage thereof) have no doubt showcased the musical importance of the full band. These albums feature timeless tracks like "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze," "Foxy Lady," "The Wind Cries Mary," and others that played a pivotal role in defining the psychedelic music era and establishing Hendrix as a rock icon before his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 27.

Following Redding's death in 2003 and Mitchell's in 2008, their descendants assigned any potential rights in the albums to two companies: Noel Redding Estate Ltd and Mitch Mitchell Estate Ltd. In 2022, these companies initiated legal proceedings against Sony, seeking a declaration that they possess a share of the sound recording copyrights for the three Jimi Hendrix Experience albums. Sony attempted to have the case dismissed, citing releases signed by Redding and Mitchell in the early 1970s, wherein they agreed not to sue Hendrix's estate or any record companies distributing the albums. According to Sony's lawyers, the compensation Redding and Mitchell received in 1973 and 1974, respectively, for withdrawing lawsuits in New York constituted a complete defense.

The Judge's ruling is impactful for Sony, and the estates of Jimi Hendrix, Noel Redding, and Mitch Mitchell

Rather than side with Sony, Judge Michael Green ruled that the lawsuit should proceed to a full trial, likely to take place in 2025, and that the estates have a "more than arguable" chance at securing royalties, specifically noting "...they want to establish their ownership of the copyright to seek redress from Sony for its ongoing exploitation, and they would say infringement of those rights..."
Lawrence Abramson, the lawyer representing the two estates, welcomed the ruling, emphasizing the collaborative nature of Hendrix's recordings and the significant contributions of Redding and Mitchell to the band's success.