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Sex Pistols bandmates beat Johnny Rotten in Disney licensing dispute

A British judge found Monday that the punk band's 1998 contract has a majority-rule provision supporting the band's plan to license music for an upcoming Danny Boyle-directed television series against the wishes of their former frontman.

LONDON (CN) — “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated,” sneered Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten at the exhausted conclusion of the British punk band’s final show at San Francisco’s Winterland in 1978. Forty-three years later, the notoriously wry “Anarchy in the U.K.” icon lost his legal fight against two former Sex Pistols bandmates on Monday over the singer’s opposition to their use of the trailblazing first-wave British punk band's music in an upcoming Disney series.

Judge Anthony Mann at the High Court in London ruled that the band's former drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones were entitled to invoke majority-voting rules against famously snotty John Lydon to license their 1970s-era back catalogue.

Lydon, better known as the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, argued in July that the licenses for "Pistol,” a six-part Disney drama about the band directed by Oscar-winning British director Danny Boyle, could not be granted without his permission, adding that the bandmembers’ copyright licensing agreement "smacks of some kind of slave labour."

But High Court Judge Mann ruled Monday it was "impossible to believe" Lydon was unaware of the repercussions of the bandmates’ 1998 agreement allowing voting on a majority-rules basis during his efforts to protect the Sex Pistols' legacy.

"A man with those concerns would expect to be made to understand important documents that he was signing. He would not have been cavalier about that," said Judge Mann. "He must have made an informed decision to sign it and — if it is a shackle — to shackle himself."

“Pistol” is based on guitarist Steve Jones’ 2018 memoir "Lonely Boy: Tales From a Sex Pistol,” which Lydon’s attorney Mark Cunningham said depicts the frontman “in a hostile and unflattering light."

In reaction the first publicity shots of “Pistol,” Lydon called the series “a disgrace” and “the most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure,” in an interview with The Sunday Times last April.

“Sorry, you think you can do this, like walk all over me — it isn’t going to happen,” Lydon said. “Not without a huge, enormous fucking fight. I’m Johnny, you know, and when you interfere with my business you’re going to get the bitter end of my business as a result.”

Attorney Edmund Cullen, representing Jones and Cook, had said the agreement allowed licensing requests to be approved on a majority-rules basis, with Lydon the only resister.

Cullen noted a court filing that founding bassist Glen Matlock, who left the band in 1977, and the estate of his replacement Sid Vicious, who died from heroin overdose in 1979, also supported the series’ licensing.

Jones and Cook welcomed Judge Mann’s ruling, saying the weeklong hearing before London’s High Court was "necessary to allow us to move forward and hopefully work together in the future with better relations."

The band’s barnstorming original run in the '70s lasted just four years, releasing their first single “Anarchy in the U.K.” in 1976 and their sole full-length record “Nevermind the Bollocks” in 1977.

The band disintegrated by the end of their first U.S. tour in 1978, which had proven disastrous in part due to manager Malcolm McLaren’s purposeful routing throughout the South in a deliberate effort to play to more hostile American audiences.

Prior to the Sex Pistols, Jones co-founded The Strand, named after Roxy Music's song "Do the Strand,” with Cook and bassist Wally Nightingale in the early 1970s but later changed its name to The Swankers.

After dropping Nightingale in August 1975, Jones went on to co-found Sex Pistols with Cook, Matlock and Lydon.

Formed in London in 1975, the Sex Pistols energized generations of punk rock bands and scandalized the British music scene with the charged-up rock’n’roll songs like “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.”

After the breakup of the Six Pistols in 1978, Lydon continued on through the following decade as the sardonic frontman of the British experimental post-punk act Public Image Ltd., also known as P.I.L.

In 1986, Lydon filed motions to block the release of the Sid Vicious biopic “Sid & Nancy,” which starred Gary Oldman in his first leading role as doomed, heroin-addicted Pistols bassist.

The surviving members have revived the original lineup for several reunion concerts, first in 1996 for the six-month Filthy Lucre Tour, and most recently in 2008.

“Pistol” is being made for Disney subsidiary FX and is directed by Danny Boyle, the Academy Award-winning director of “Trainspotting” and “Slumdog Millionaire.”

The six-episode limited series for FX stars Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten, Toby Wallace as Steve Jones, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Jacob Slater as Paul Cook, and Chrstian Lees as Matlock.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster from the “The Queen’s Gambit” and Talulah Riley from “Westworld” also join cast as McLaren and punk fashion designer Vivienne Westwood.

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