When it began in 1973, the â€œKing Biscuit Flower Hourâ€ was very much of its time. Bob Meyrowitz, who ran the show during its heyday, had the idea to start a weekly rock concert radio program as an alternative to chaotic festival shows after a fan was killed at the Rolling Stones performance at Altamont.
â€œI thought people would bring their cars into big parking lots and dance to the music,â€ Mr. Meyrowitz said. The first episode featured the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Blood Sweat & Tears and a barely known singer from New Jersey named Bruce Springsteen.
Back then no one thought much about what would happen to the King Biscuit recordings, which grew to thousands of hours featuring nearly every top act in â€™70s and â€™80s rock.
Now, more than 30 years later, the archives of radio and television shows like â€œKing Biscuit,â€ â€œDon Kirshnerâ€™s Rock Concertâ€ and â€œLater … With Jools Hollandâ€ have become valuable prizes in the desperate search for new content for Web sites, DVDs and video-on-demand services.
[...] But live recordings can come with thorny legal questions. They were often made outside the studio under contracts that did not clearly assign copyrights to a record label. Now the content owners are scrambling to get the permissions needed to sell the material in formats that did not exist when the music was recorded. And labels and musicians are also asserting their rights to such recordings â€” in one instance, in court.
The King Biscuit property, which has changed hands twice, is now owned by Wolfgangâ€™s Vault, a company involved in a particularly important dispute about how such recordings can be used.
The company also owns the archive of the late San Francisco concert promoter Bill Graham, and is being sued on charges of copyright infringement and bootlegging, among other things, by a group of musicians, including the Grateful Dead and members of Led Zeppelin and the Doors.
[...] The legal duel involves a number of issues, including the rights to sell reproductions of the items in the warehouse that feature the likenesses of the artists or the bandsâ€™ logos. But the most important issue, given the value of what is at stake, is precisely what Mr. Sagan owns. In a statement released when the suit was filed, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead said that Mr. Saganâ€™s actions amounted to stealing.
â€œJust because you own the tapes doesnâ€™t mean you have the copyright to the music on them,â€ said Ms. Beringer, who argues that Mr. Graham never had a copyright to this music in the first place. â€œThe copyright act says that the performers are the presumed owners of the copyright.â€ Since some artists were under contracts that specifically granted live recording rights to the label, Sony BMG Music Entertainment has also joined the suit.
[...] At a time when music sales are declining, many expressed frustration that it was so complicated to find a way to make money on these kinds of recordings. In an odd twist, material by older artists is especially desirable, since their adult fans tend to buy music rather than download it illegally.