Trying to lock up Wolfgang's Vault

Wolfgang's Vault logo

KAI RYSSDAL: It's amazing what you can find in an old warehouse. And the kind of trouble it can cause. In this case, a warehouse full of 30-year-old T-shirts, posters and original live recordings from bands like The Doors, Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead. All stored away over the years by legendary concert promoter Bill Graham.First name: Wolfgang.

After Graham died, his collection wound up with a clever entrepeneur named Bill Sagan who created a website called Wolfgang's Vault. Sagan paid about $5 million for the collection. And he's hoping to make a whole lot more than that by selling it off, ticket stub by ticket stub, online.

To entice visitors, he's offering free Internet streams of 300 classic concerts. How about Led Zeppelin, live at the Fillmore 1969?

Some of the bands, including some surviving members of Led Zeppelin, The Doors and the Grateful Dead, filed a lawsuit yesterday to shut down the site. They claim Sagan shouldn't profit from memorabilia with the band's names on it. And that Sagan shouldn't stream the concerts to drive the traffic to his website.

JEFF REEVES: Sagan has not obtained the consent from these artists to do what he's doing.

Intellectual property lawyer Jeff Reeves represents the plaintiffs. But according to Columbia law professor Tim Wu, the bands' case lies in their complaint against broadcasting old concerts over the Internet.

TIM WU: Let's say I buy a DVD. You know, I have the right to watch the DVD at home, enjoy the DVD, but I don't have the right to open a movie theatre and start playing the DVD. I mean I do own the DVD, but that doesn't mean I have every right to the movie.

But really, Wu says, the case is about how the pie is going to be sliced, not who owns the rights to it.

WU: Some of the claims seem to be so overreaching that they're kind of a settlement or a negotiation tool where they'd just like to get a cut of what's going on here.

Whatever legal fire the case has lit, classic rock fans will be able to get their fix of some of the Grateful Dead's first shows for just a little while longer.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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