Litigation over ownership of manuscript versions of lyrics to rock mega-hit "Hotel California" and other songs

The trial concerns about one hundred pages of song lyrics versions from the LP "Hotel California" from 1976, which is the third best-selling album in the US to date.

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Illustration, Photo: Shutterstock
Illustration, Photo: Shutterstock
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

Nearly half a century since "Hotel California" became a rock megahit, three men were on trial Wednesday in a criminal case related to what happened to a series of handwritten lyrics to that song and other favorites from the 1971 group "The Eagles," which still performs occasionally.

The case is centered on about a hundred pages containing developmental versions of some of the most famous lyrics in rock songs.

The Eagles co-founder Don Henley, who wants the manuscripts back, is expected to be a key witness. All the defendants are well-known professionals in the world of collectors, and they got the lyrics - documents from a writer and figure from the counterculture of the 1960s with rock roots.

Prosecutors say the defendants - rare book dealer Glen Horowitz, former Rock and Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi and memorabilia dealer Edward Kosinski - sold the pages knowing their ownership history was shaky at best. Then, prosecutors allege, they plotted to thwart Henley's efforts to return what he says were stolen portions of his inheritance.

"The defendants were not businessmen acting in good faith, but criminal actors," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Penfold said in his opening statement.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to possess stolen property. Their lawyers say that the documents were simply not stolen and that they did not illegally buy or try to sell them.

"They accused three innocent men of a crime that never happened," Inciardi's attorney, Stacey Richman, said during opening statements.

The defense says Henley voluntarily provided the documents and asked prosecutors to return them to him. "The prosecution makes a crime out of every circumstance in which a famous person tells you: 'That property is mine,' and you don't return it when he asks for it," said one of Kosinski's lawyers, Matthew Laroche.

The trial concerns about 100 pages of versions of song lyrics from the LP "Hotel California" from 1976, which is the third best-selling album in the US to date.

The documents contain developing lyrics for the songs "Life in the Fast Lane", "New Kid in Town" and, of course, "Hotel California" - more than six minutes of a somewhat mysterious musical story in a hedonistic but ultimately dark place where "you can log out whenever you want, but you can never leave".

Although scorned by some as an overexposed artifact of the '70s, the Grammy-winning song remains a cornerstone of classic rock radio and many a personal playlist. Entertainment data company Luminate has counted more than 220 million streams and 136.000 radio plays of "Hotel California" in the US alone and last year alone.

The case was brought in 2022, a decade after some of the text's pages began appearing at auctions, and Henley noticed - and was furious. He bought four pages for $8.500 and reported the documents stolen, prosecutors said.

At the time, the texts were in the hands of Kosinski and Inciardi, who bought them from Horowitz for $65.000. And his company bought them for $50.000 in 2005 from Ed Sanders, a famous poet, nonfiction writer and activist who co-founded the avant-garde rock group "Fugs." He worked with The Eagles on a biography of the band that had been shelved in the early 1980s, collecting boxes full of material.

"The Eagles trusted Sanders with everything about their lives, things that I'm quite sure they wished they didn't share ... and they want it back," LaRoche told Judge Curtis Farber during opening statements. Farber will decide the verdict, since the defendants waived the jury.

Sanders has not been charged and did not return a phone message for comment on the case.

Sanders told Horowitz in 2005 that Henley's assistant mailed all the documents he wanted for the biography, even though the writer was concerned that Henley "might be upset" if they were sold, according to an email shown in court.

"It cast considerable doubt on whether Sanders actually owned Henley's lyric notes and whether he had the right to sell them," said Penfold, the prosecutor.

In 1979, Sanders signed a contract stating that "The Eagles" remained the owners of the material they gave Sanders for the book. Defense attorneys said their clients knew nothing about the deal until after they were charged.

Prosecutors say that when Henley's lawyers began raising questions and claiming the documents were stolen, Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinski tried to find and disseminate a legally viable ownership history of the manuscripts.

According to the e-mails cited in the indictment, Inciardi and Horovic presented new accounts of how Sanders obtained the documents. Explanations ranged over the next five years from Sanders finding them in a concert hall wardrobe to the writer receiving them from Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey, who died in 2016.

There is also talk of Sanders's contribution and consent to it, but he also rejected stories about finding manuscripts in the dressing room, he writes in the e-mails cited in the indictment. In the messages, Horovic wrote that Sanders' "'explanation' should be framed as a communication" and that he should be "handled carefully" and assured him "that he will not go 'blank'", according to the indictment.

Horowitz's attorney, Jonathan Bach, said the e-mails were not a dubious attempt to cover their tracks, but rather an attempt by Horowitz and Inciardi to get "a simple statement from Ed Sanders to refute an allegation they know is baseless."

The indictment does not show that Kosinki participated in maneuvering Sanders. But Kosinski relayed one of the various explanations to Henley's attorney, then told the auction house that the rocker "had no right" to the manuscripts, the indictment alleges. He also asked the auctioneers not to tell potential bidders about the ownership dispute.

LaRoche, his attorney, said Kosinski was open with everyone and "acted diligently and appropriately."

Defense attorneys have indicated they plan to question how clearly Henley remembers his relationship with Sanders and the songs during his time as a rock star himself.

"His attitudes today, as a mature, successful, older businessman, regarding the material he composed and created almost 50 years ago, are very different from the attitudes he had in his youth...once upon a time when he was far more carefree." Bach said.

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