Rockers sue over sales of memorabilia

Times Staff Writers

The Summer of Love is long gone. Here comes the Winter of Litigation.

Led Zeppelin, the Doors, the Grateful Dead and Carlos Santana -- a rock ‘n’ roll dream team, circa 1970 -- are suing Wolfgang’s Vault, a Bay Area seller of classic-rock memorabilia and reproductions that also streams vintage concerts on the Web.

Wolfgang’s Vault launched three years ago as an Internet merchant for the vast trove of memorabilia amassed by the late, iconic concert promoter Bill Graham. In November, the website ignited considerable fan excitement when it began streaming hundreds of rare concert moments that Graham filmed and archived during the glory days of rock.

The complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco claims that the memorabilia sales and streaming of performance footage are clear exploitations of the intellectual property and artistic success of the plaintiffs, who are described in the suit as “among the most legendary recording and performing artists of all time.” The sales of items have continued despite “repeated demands” by the artists that the company stop, the suit alleges.


The lawsuit names as defendant William E. Sagan, the former head of a Minnesota healthcare company who became a rock entrepreneur when, for about $6 million, he acquired a warehouse piled high with Graham’s relics. Born Wolfgang Grajonca in Germany, Graham died in 1991 in a helicopter accident. Since then, the trove changed hands several times before Sagan got it.

“Sagan simply doesn’t have the legal rights to exploit and profit from the extraordinary success of these musicians,” said attorney Jeff Reeves, who represents the musicians and works in the Irvine offices of Los Angeles law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “This memorabilia was created in the first place for the purposes of promoting concerts and as gifts for fans and concert crew. Graham himself did not have the right to sell, reproduce or otherwise exploit these materials as a promoter, and neither does Sagan, who was not authorized to purchase these materials and who has absolutely no connection to the artists or their music.”

The lawsuit requests a permanent injunction barring Wolfgang’s Vault from selling any of the plaintiffs’ memorabilia or recordings and demands that “all merchandise and goods” bearing the musicians’ “names, voices, likenesses, photographs, identities, trademarks or copyrights” be handed over to the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs also want to be paid all of the profits made from the sale of their memorabilia, as well as punitive damages.

Sagan said the company was contacted this year by “one or two” of the plaintiffs.

“They wrote us a letter, we wrote them a letter, and we never heard back,” he said.

Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek said he and his two surviving bandmates, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore, along with the estate of lead singer Jim Morrison, believe they deserve royalties whenever Sagan exploits the Doors’ legacy.

“That’s how artists make money, and it’s OK for artists to make money and they should make money when people are selling their name and their image,” Manzarek said. “If people are buying something because it says the Doors on it then, you know, you should give the Doors some of the money. Look, I need to pay my electric bill. I play an electric keyboard.”