Three defendants are on trial for conspiring to sell Eagles’ original Hotel California lyrics

A trial began in Manhattan this week over original handwritten lyrics to the 1976 Eagles hit “Hotel California.” Three men who deal in rare books and memorabilia have been charged with conspiring to sell around 100 pages penned by Eagles member Don Henley, despite knowing the ownership of the pages was in question. The defendants bought the pages from a writer who was working on an authorized book about The Eagles back in the 70s and 80s. That writer was legitimately given access to Eagles materials, but it is at best unclear and at worst criminal whether he then had the right to sell those materials. The defendants have pleaded not guilty, but they’re also on record as offering varying explanations for how they got the pages. What a nice surprise, they brought their alibis:

The defendants: Glenn Horowitz, a rare-book dealer, Craig Inciardi, a former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator, and Edward Kosinski, a memorabilia seller, are charged with conspiring to own and try to sell manuscripts of Hotel California and other Eagles hits without the right to do so. The three have pleaded not guilty, and their lawyers have said the men committed no crime with the papers, which they acquired via a writer who had worked with the Eagles. The Manhattan district attorney’s office says the defendants connived to obscure the documents’ disputed ownership, despite knowing that Henley said the pages were stolen. … They are not charged with actually stealing documents. Nor is anyone else, but prosecutors will still have to establish that the documents were stolen. The defence maintains that is not true.

Don Henley will take the stand: Henley is expected to testify between Eagles tour stops. The non-jury trial could offer a peek into the band’s creative process and life in the fast lane of 70s stardom. At issue are more than 80 pages of draft lyrics from the blockbuster 1976 Hotel California album, including words to the chart-topping, Grammy-winning title cut. … The pages also include lyrics from songs including Life in the Fast Lane and New Kid in Town. The Eagles manager Irving Azoff has called the documents “irreplaceable pieces of musical history”.

How the papers switched hands: Much turns on the Eagles’ interactions with Ed Sanders, a writer who also co-founded the 1960s counterculture rock band the Fugs. He worked in the late 70s and early 80s on an authorised Eagles biography that was never published. Sanders is not charged in the case. … He sold the pages to Horowitz, who then sold them to Inciardi and Kosinski. Horowitz has handled huge rare book and archive deals, and has been entangled in ownership spats before. … Sanders told Horowitz in 2005 that while working on the Eagles book, he was sent whatever papers he wanted from Henley’s home in Malibu, California, according to the indictment.

The defendants’ stories keep changing: Kosinski’s business then offered some pages at auction in 2012. Henley’s attorneys came knocking. Horowitz, Inciardi and Sanders, in varying combinations, began batting around alternate versions of the manuscripts’ provenance, the indictment says. In one story, Sanders found the pages discarded in a backstage dressing room. In others, he got them from a stage assistant or while amassing “a lot of material related to the Eagles from different people”. In yet another, he obtained them from Frey — an account that “would make this go away once and for all”, Horowitz suggested in 2017. Frey had died the year before.

Shady dealing with Sotheby’s: Sanders supplied or signed off on some of the varying explanations, according to the indictment, and it’s unclear what he may have conveyed verbally. But he apparently rejected at least the dressing room tale. Kosinski forwarded one explanation, approved by Sanders, to Henley’s lawyer. Kosinski also assured Sotheby’s auction house that the musician had “no claim” to the documents and asked to keep potential bidders in the dark about Henley’s complaints, the indictment says. Sotheby’s listed the Hotel California song lyrics in a 2016 auction but withdrew them after learning the ownership was in question. Sotheby’s is not charged in the case and declined to comment.

[From The Guardian]

This (alleged) crime was 40 years in the making and the case 10 years in being brought to trial! And frankly my favorite detail throughout it all is that edgy, trippy “Hotel California” was written on basic old yellow legal pad. Love it. As for this motley crew of defendants, I think they’re in trouble. Changing your stories and asking Sotheby’s to withhold info from bidders are not good-looking moves, to say nothing of the “a dead man can back up my alibi,” defense.

The first day in court didn’t do much to help their case, either. Eagles manager Irving Azoff (a big fish in the music biz) testified that Sanders signed a contract in 1979 which explicitly said the band owned anything provided to Sanders to be used for writing the book. The defendants claim they didn’t know about Sanders’ contract, but it’s hard to believe they had no inkling that the ownership of the pages was dubious. This was purportedly their profession, after all. I just hope the judge has some fun at sentencing, telling them that they’re all prisoners of their own device, and that they can check out any time they like but they can never leave. (Not sorry, it had to be done.)

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Photos credit: Aude Guerrucci/Mr Tickle/John Marshall/Avalon and Getty

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6 Responses to “Three defendants are on trial for conspiring to sell Eagles’ original Hotel California lyrics”

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  1. Bumblebee says:

    Give Henley his musings back, you greedy grifters. Did Sanders not tell them about this contract? Oh, what a twisted web he wove.

  2. Tulipworthy says:

    The last paragraph of this story had me laughing out loud. I enjoy your clever writing Kismet.

  3. Renee' says:

    They are thieves. Give the band (or Henley) back the documents.

  4. elle says:

    I am very confused. Why wouldn’t Sanders be charged, since he was the one who originally had access to them and sold them. Why is that not considered stealing?

  5. Concern Fae says:

    Really amazing to look at that list of songs and realize they were all on the same album.