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Johnny Rotten Loses U.K. Bid to Block Sex Pistols Songs From TV Show

John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has lost a high court battle to stop the Sex Pistols' music from being used in a new TV drama series about the punk group.

LONDON — John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has lost a court battle in the United Kingdom to stop the Sex Pistols‘ music from being used in an upcoming FX TV drama series about the legendary British punk group.

Former Pistols drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones both gave permission for the band’s songs to feature in the forthcoming show, which is being directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, but Lydon tried to block it.

Lydon, 65, argued that he along with the group’s other founders have the right to veto how their music is exploited.

Cook and Jones sued him, citing a “Band Member Agreement” (BMA) signed by all parties in 1998 that says licensing decisions can be taken on a majority-vote basis. Their claim was supported by Sex Pistols’ original bassist Glen Matlock and the estate of Sid Vicious, who replaced Matlock in 1977.


In a ruling on Monday (Aug. 23) in the High Court of Justice, Sir Anthony Mann, the judge in the case, found that the terms of the BMA stood and the claimants (Cook and Jones) “were entitled to invoke the majority voting rules” in relation to the use of Sex Pistols’ material.

In a joint statement, Cook and Jones welcomed the court ruling, which follows a week-long hearing in London, saying it “brings clarity to our decision-making” and upholds the band members’ agreement on collective decision-making.

“It has not been a pleasant experience,” said the musicians, “but we believe it was necessary to allow us to move forward and hopefully work together in the future with better relations.”

Lydon, who gave evidence in the trial, likening the 1998 band member agreement to “becoming a prisoner of a hostile majority” and “some kind of slave labor,” has yet to respond.


A key part of the singer’s defense during the court case was that the agreement has never been invoked until recently and that it should not apply.

According to evidence presented in the High Court, the BMA was drawn up in the late 1990s, prompted by Lydon wanting to sell his North American publishing interests to BMG. Before a deal could be agreed on, BMG requested a “letter of comfort” from the other surviving members of the band (and representatives of the estate of Sid Vicious) confirming that they had no claims affecting the rights.

The band members signed the letter on the proviso that an agreement was signed by all parties setting out majority voting rights on licensing matters.

“It is clear that Mr. Lydon must have agreed, because he ultimately entered into the BMA,” the judge ruled, rejecting the singer’s claims that he did not really understand or appreciate the document’s significance. “It is highly likely that, even if he did not read it himself, it will have been explained to him and he will have understood its effects,” Mann said.


“There is no doubt that the document was a fully negotiated document involving lawyers on both sides and that its purpose as a document providing for majority control was fully understood,” he stated.

The judge also noted that Lydon had “actually signed away his power to control the use of music rights” referring to historic deals he had previously signed with publishing and music companies Warner Chappell Music and BMG.

“It may be that those companies, for their own reasons, chose to seek his permission from time to time, but ultimately they could act as they saw fit,” Mann said in the ruling.

The six-part TV series at the heart of the dispute is based on Jones’ 2016 memoir, Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol, and is due to be released next year by Disney for its FX network.

In an interview with British newspaper The Sunday Times earlier this year, Lydon called the show, which is entitled Pistol, the “most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure” and said it was being made without his consent.

His lawyers told the court that Jones and Cook’s manager, Anita Camarata, had tried to conceal the project from the singer, although the judge dismissed those claims.

In delivering his verdict, Mann noted that relationships between band members have always been strained and those difficulties still persist today.

The Sex Pistols formed in 1975, igniting the British punk scene and sending shockwaves throughout the country, before splitting up in 1978, following their last gig at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. The band re-formed in 1996 for the Filthy Lucre Tour and have sporadically performed together several times since then, most recently in 2008 with the Combine Harvester Tour.