Johnny Rotten ‘has passionate aversion to becoming prisoner over Pistols songs'

The punk group's former drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones are suing the band's ex-singer.

Former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten has an “deep-felt and passionate aversion to becoming a ‘prisoner'” in a dispute over the band’s songs being used in a television drama, his lawyers have told the High Court.

The punk group’s former drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones are suing the band’s ex-singer, real name John Lydon, to allow their songs to be used in TV drama Pistol, directed by Danny Boyle.

The six-part series, which is being made by Disney and is due to air next year, is based on a 2016 memoir by Mr Jones called Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol.

Sex Pistols court case
Paul Cook arrives at the Rolls Building at the High Court in London with his wife Jeni (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Jones and Mr Cook argue that, under the terms of a band member agreement (BMA) made in 1998, decisions regarding licensing requests can be determined on a “majority rules basis”.

But Mr Lydon, who has previously told the Sunday Times he thinks the series is the “most disrespectful shit I’ve ever had to endure”, argues that licences cannot be granted without his consent.

Mark Cunningham QC, for Mr Lydon, told the court in closing submissions on Tuesday that the agreement has never been used and he considers it a “nuclear button” for the claimants and their manager, Anita Camerata, to “impose their wishes” on him.

Mr Cunningham said: “(The claimants’) reliance on the BMA requires them to seek declaratory relief that governs the entirety of their ongoing contractual and commercial relationship with Mr Lydon.

“It is not limited to Pistol. That is a real concern for Mr Lydon and his deep-felt and passionate aversion to becoming a ‘prisoner’ of a hostile majority controlled by Ms Camarata was obvious from his evidence.”

John Lydon, centre, poses for a photo outside the Rolls Building at the High Court
John Lydon, centre, poses for a photo outside the Rolls Building (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Lawyers for Mr Cook and Mr Jones argued there should not be any dispute about whether the agreement allows licensing decisions to be made “by a majority” and said Mr Lydon is in breach of the BMA by refusing to provide his consent.

In written submissions, Edmund Cullen QC, for Mr Cook and Mr Jones, said: “In reality, of course, the court cannot accept his evidence as true because it patently was not.

“(Mr Lydon) is evidently not a stupid man. He cannot genuinely have believed the BMA was never effective.

“His evidence that that is what he believed was not a failure of memory – it was a straightforward lie.

“It is a lie he has to tell because he can give no coherent explanation of how or when he did form the belief that the BMA was ineffective.

“And the reason he cannot give that explanation is because he never did form such a belief.”

Previously, Mr Lydon told the court the Sex Pistols had so far managed to agree how to conduct their business with “unanimity” and he did not remember signing the agreement.

He also described the agreement as a “total trap or prison” and said it “smacks of slave labour”.

The group Sex Pistols, signing a new recording contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace in London, (l/r) Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, bass player Sid Vicious and the group’s manager Malcolm McLaren (Archive/PA)
The Sex Pistols signing a recording contract outside Buckingham Palace (PA)

Mr Lydon also told the court: “You can’t let your history be rewritten for us by a complete stranger with no interest in it.

“This is my life here. This is my history. I didn’t write these songs (for them) to be given off to nonsense.”

The Sex Pistols were formed in 1975 and disbanded in 1978, but have performed live shows together a number of times since then, most recently in 2008.

In evidence on Tuesday, Mr Cook accepted the Sex Pistols were probably “gone for good” after he and Mr Jones took legal action.

Last week, Mr Jones told the court he thought Mr Lydon was “a total dick”, but added: “This is not about slagging anyone off in this TV series at all.”

Mr Cullen has previously told the court his clients’ claim is against Mr Lydon alone.

He said in written submissions that original band member Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious, and representatives of the estate of Vicious, who died in February 1979, supported their position.

After the end of the hearing on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Lydon signed a number of photos and records – including Sex Pistols’ 1977 album Never Mind The Bollocks – for a fan outside court.

The hearing continues on Thursday when the court will hear live evidence from witnesses called on behalf of Mr Lydon, and will conclude on Tuesday next week with closing submissions.

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