Sex Pistols’ legal fight over use of songs in series starts at High Court

·2-min read
Johnny Rotten, who is defending legal action by two of his former Sex Pistols’ bandmates over use of the band’s songs in a television series (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)
Johnny Rotten, who is defending legal action by two of his former Sex Pistols’ bandmates over use of the band’s songs in a television series (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

A legal fight between two former Sex Pistols band members and frontman Johnny Rotten over the use of their songs in a television series has begun at the High Court in London

The series, Pistol, which is directed by Danny Boyle and is due to air next year, is based on a 2016 memoir by guitarist Steve Jones called Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol.

Mr Jones and the band’s former drummer Paul Cook are bringing legal action against the former lead singer, real name John Lydon, so that songs from the punk band’s back catalogue can be used in the show.

Edmund Cullen QC, representing Mr Jones and Mr Cook, told Sir Anthony Mann, the judge overseeing the case, on Thursday at the outset of a trial that efforts have been made to resolve similar matters over the years “consensually”, due to the “brittle and fractious” relationship between the former bandmates.

However Mr Lydon has said he is not prepared to approve the licences needed for the music to be used in Pistol unless ordered to by a court, and previously told The Sunday Times he thinks the series is “most disrespectful s*** I’ve ever had to endure”.

The band were formed in 1975 and disbanded in 1978, but have performed live shows together a number of times since then, most recently in 2008.

Mr Cullen argued that, under the terms of a band agreement made in 1998, decisions regarding licensing requests could be determined on a “majority rules basis”.

The barrister said the issue for the judge to decide is whether Mr Lydon is in breach of the agreement, or whether, as Mr Lydon contends, the licences cannot be granted without his consent.

The group Sex Pistols, signing a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace in London, (l/r) Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, bass player Sid Vicious and the group’s manager Malcolm McLaren (Archive/PA) (PA Archive)
The group Sex Pistols, signing a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace in London, (l/r) Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, bass player Sid Vicious and the group’s manager Malcolm McLaren (Archive/PA) (PA Archive)

In written argument before the court, Mr Cullen said the claim proceeds against Mr Lydon alone, as original band member Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious in 1977, and the representatives of the estate of Sid Vicious, who died in February 1979, support the position of Mr Cook and Mr Jones.

Mark Cunningham QC, representing Mr Lydon, said in written arguments that Mr Lydon considers that Mr Jones’ memoir “depicts him in a hostile and unflattering light”.

He referred to a passage in the book, which reads: “And as for the annoying little brat with the great bone structure who’s always asking for more … well let’s leave Johnny Rotten out of this for a while, shall we?

“He’s had his say a few times.

“Maybe enough times.

“It’s my turn now.”

During day one of the trial, the legal teams repeatedly referenced the band’s only studio album, Never Mind The Bollocks, which features the songs at the centre of the dispute.

The trial, which is being heard remotely, is due to continue on Friday and into next week.

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