The estate of Jimi Hendrix has filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that the heirs of the legendary guitarist’s former bandmates have no right to bring copyright claims against them over alleged unpaid royalties dating back decades.

According to Rolling Stone, the filing was triggered by Sony Music Entertainment, the exclusive licensee of Hendrix’s music, receiving a letter in December from a lawyer representing the estates of former Jimi Hendrix Experience bassist David Noel Redding and drummer John Graham “Mitch” Mitchell, claiming that the label owed them ‘millions of pounds’ in unpaid royalties and threatening to bring legal proceedings.

In response, Hendrix’s estate and Sony filed a lawsuit on 18 January in Manhattan requesting ‘the issuance of a declaratory judgment of ownership and non-infringement’ – effectively a pre-emptive declaration that they owe nothing to Redding’s and Mitchell’s heirs.

The Hendrix estate and Sony say that Redding and Mitchell signed agreements in the 1970s releasing the Hendrix estate from any legal action in exchange for monetary compensation. The Redding and Mitchell estates claim that those agreements are no longer valid. The Hendrix estate says they remain enforceable and the Manhattan filing seeks a declaration to that effect.

Hendrix formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. The band broke up in 1969 after Redding quit, although Mitchell continued to play with Hendrix on and off until Hendrix’s death the following year, at the age of 27. Redding died in 2003, and Mitchell died in 2008. Their estates’ lawyers say that ‘both died in relative poverty having never received their true entitlement from their works, performances and founding membership of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’.

According to Billboard, the Hendrix estate and Sony say that there has been no claim ‘for almost half a century… concerning the copyright ownership, exploitation of these recordings by plaintiffs, or payments of royalties’.