SCOTT SIMON, host:
Now a follow-up to a story that we ran early last year about a Web site called Wolfgang's Vault. The name Wolfgang refers to the late rock concert promoter Bill Graham, whose real name was Wolfgang Grajonca. The Web site contains memorabilia and recordings from Graham's storied career. NPR's Felix Contreras reports there's now a legal battle brewing over the site.
FELIX CONTRERAS: Bill Graham was not only a legendary rock promoter, he was also a notorious packrat. From the first show he organized in 1964 until his death in 1991, Graham seems to have saved every extra ticket, T-shirt, poster and handbill ever made to promote his concerts. He also collected the performances themselves, recording them from the soundboards.
(Soundbite of music)
CONTRERAS: Graham was a refugee from Nazi Germany who settled in San Francisco just as the counterculture movement began expressing itself through art and music. He turned an aging vaudeville theater in the city's Fillmore District into ground zero for a cultural revolution.
In all, there were thousands of shows at the Fillmore, a larger arena called Winterland, and eventually a New York outpost, the Fillmore East. After Graham died in 1991, his concert production company was sold and ended up as part of Clear Channel Communications. They kept the concert business but sold a warehouse full of Graham's memorabilia and concert recordings to Michael Sagan, a Minnesota businessman.
In 2004, Sagan created Wolfgang's Vault to sell the memorabilia, and to draw visitors to the site, two years later, he started streaming concerts from Graham's treasure trove of recordings, which he described to NPR last year.
Mr. BILL SAGAN (President, Wolfgang's Vault): It's everyone. And it's everyone from Led Zeppelin and Country Joe and the Fish through Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and The Doors and Jeff Beck through early, early concerts of Bruce Springstein and Van Morrison.
CONTRERAS: Sagan said along with the recordings and the memorabilia, the warehouse also contained old documents, including agreements Graham made with the artists about recording the shows.
Mr. SAGAN: We have all those initial contracts, Janis Joplin's signature right next Bill Graham, Jimi Hendrix's.
CONTRERAS: But the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and Santana say those old contracts are limited. Attorney Jeffrey Reeves represents the bands in a lawsuit that claims copyright and trademark infringement and violations of the federal Anti-Bootlegging Act, among other things.
Mr. JEFF REEVES (Attorney): Even if Mr. Graham had permission to record these shows live, he himself would not have had the right - especially today, after the passage of the new Millennium Copyright Act - to turn around and start broadcasting those shows.
CONTRERAS: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act was a sweeping Clinton-era revision of the country's copyright laws meant to protect intellectual property in the Internet age. Attorney Fred von Lohmann is with Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to computer related civil liberties. He says this case is difficult; even though there might have been permission to record the performances, what were the bands actually agreeing to?
Mr. FRED VON LOHMAN (Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation): The real question is, did the person who made the recording have permission? And so far, there really aren't any precedents about exactly how explicit that permission has to be. So this case may test that boundary.
CONTRERAS: Von Lohmann points out it was after all the '60s. It was the Fillmore. It was the heyday of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. What is the saying? If you remember the '60s, you weren't there.
Mr. VON LOHMAN: It may be hard to come up with people who have a clear memory of what exactly happened during those years.
(Soundbite of music)
CONTRERAS: Along with the music streaming, the suit also questions Sagan's right to sell memorabilia with names, logos and likenesses of the group. Michel Elkins, Sagan's attorney, says when Sagan purchased the T-shirts, posters and other printed material, he also purchased the right to sell them.
Mr. MICHAEL ELKIN (Attorney): This was simply an attempt to try to extract from our client either the transfer of rights themselves, or to try to put him out of business. That's not going to happen. The Vault is open today and will continue to remain so.
(Soundbite of music)
CONTRERAS: The lawsuit could be seen as symbolic of the '60s-era spirit of peace and love crashing into the realities of Internet commerce. It's now up to the courts to determine who we can turn to, to revisit a time when artists disregarded boundaries to push themselves and their audiences toward art that crystallized a unique moment in our cultural history.
Felix Contreras, NPR News.