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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Bill Graham’s Family Has Case for Conversion

(CN) - The estate executor for the late legendary rock promoter Bill Graham must face conversion claims, the 9th Circuit ruled Friday, also upholding copyright claims against Graham's former business associates.

Graham famously produced concerts for the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and other rock legends from the 1960s at his Fillmore concert venue in San Franciso, later known as the Fillmore West. He died in a helicopter crash on Oct. 25, 1991.

In 2010, the promoter's sons, Alexander Graham-Sult and David Graham, brought a breach of fiduciary duty suit against the executor of their father's estate, Nicholas Clainos, who had been longtime president of Bill Graham Enterprises. The brothers also filed claims for conversion and copyright infringement against the law firm Greene Radovsky Maloney Share & Hennigh, two attorneys, the Bill Graham Archives (BGA), Norton LLC and a shareholder of those companies.

Graham's sons claimed that the defendants had underreported the value of their father's archives and illegally grabbed copyrights related to a collection of rock memorabilia including hundreds of concert posters and scrapbooks.

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken in Oakland dismissed the claims under California's anti-SLAPP statute, however, finding that they were all related to protected activity.

The 9th Circuit partly reversed on Friday, giving new life to the brothers' claims for conversion, unjust enrichment and breach of fiduciary duty against Clainos.

Norton LLC and Bill Graham Archives LLC meanwhile must face claims for conversion, copyright infringement and declaratory relief.

In light of the reversals, the court also vacated several awards for attorneys' fees.

"Striking plaintiffs' conversion and unjust enrichment claims against Nicholas Clainos was erroneous," Judge N.R. Smith for a three-judge panel. "Because: taking possession of personal property, preparing and executing an assignment of intellectual property following a probate court's final order, and receiving consideration for stock sold after a probate court entered its final order, are not protected activities."

The lower court had held the copyright allegations to too high a standard, according to the ruling.

"Plaintiffs pleaded enough facts to show that the assignment was not effective, and that they therefore had a legitimate claim to the copyrights when the BGA defendants obtained them," Smith wrote.

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