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Wolfgang's Vault sues labels, rock gods

by Jim Welte - []
Rock archive site files counterclaim in a legal battle that strikes at the heart of its memorabilia business.

Faced with a lawsuit from the likes of Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Santana, and the Doors, entrepreneur Bill Sagan is fighting to save his business, filing a countersuit against the rock legends and two major record labels this week.

Sagan's Wolfgang's Vault Web site, which streams archived concert recordings and sells a wide range of rock memorabilia collected by legendary rock promoter Bill Graham, was sued last December by two major labels and members of the aforementioned rock bands.

The complaint claimed that Sagan, who purchased Graham's archive in 2003 for $6 million from Clear Channel, did not have permission to stream the concert recordings, and that he was using the streams to sell the memorabilia.

In his countersuit, Sagan names suing plaintiffs Warner Music Group and Sony BMG, as well as musicians like Carlos Santana, Robert Plant, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, and Jimmy Page, all of whom attached their name to the initial lawsuit, as defendants.

The countersuit calls the initial lawsuit "a blatant attempt by two of the largest record labels in the world--using artists as a front--to secure new income streams and destroy a legitimate business." The counterclaim asks a judge to find that the archive owns the rights needed to do business. The archive accuses the defendants of fraud, breach of contract, and conspiring to put the archive out of business.

Sagan and the plaintiffs negotiated over the licensing rights to the material prior to the launch of the concert streams on Wolfgang's Vault last November. The complaint claims that Warner sought to acquire the archive but suddenly canceled a meeting to discuss details of the acquisition, filing a lawsuit two week later against Sagan.

The crux of the case centers on what rights Graham had to the recordings and the promotional items in his collection, which includes rock posters and T-shirts. The artists and label claim that Graham was given a limited license to give away promotional items, not authorization to sell the archive to new owners.

The vault of recordings includes concerts from each of the plaintiffs, as well as Bob Marley, The Who, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Allman Brothers Band, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, and dozens of others.

The plaintiffs seek damages and reimbursement for all archive-related sales. They asked a judge to bar Sagan from selling any of Graham's memorabilia or tapes and order the seizure of the entire inventory, now stored at a warehouse in San Francisco.

Graham, born Wolfgang Grajonca in Germany in 1931, put on concerts at the Fillmore West and Winterland in San Francisco and the Fillmore East in New York, promoting an assortment of the biggest names in music. He was killed in a helicopter crash in 1991.

After Graham's death, his archive was sold to SFX Entertainment Inc., then to Clear Channel Communications Inc. and then to Sagan.


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