The man who sold the world: William Sagan’s Wolfgang Vault is facing a hefty legal battle with Michael Stipe, Keith Richards and more

Like the Australian Music Vault, which is a hall of fame and permanent exhibition of Australian music memorabilia, Wolfgang’s Vault is a repository for rare pieces of music history.

The project started in 2003 and is now under some serious legal fire from the artists whom it wouldn’t exist without.

Photo by Wolfgang's
Photo by Wolfgang’s

A battle between musicians and Wolfgang’s Vault, an invaluable music archive, begs the question, who owns live recorded music?

The incredible collection, which Wall Street Journal called “the most important collection of rock memorabilia and recordings ever assembled in one business” is “valued in excess of $100 million” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

William Sagan purchased a warehouse of concert promoter Bill Graham’s memorabilia in 2003 which subsequently grew into a storage unit for more musical memorabilia. In 2012, Sagan created a free and optionally premium streaming service on the Vault’s website for users to listen to the rare recordings.

The battle is over copyright. It first arose in 2015 when the National Music Publishers’ Association ushered it’s members to file suit against Sagan.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Sagan’s tactics include finding faults in the original copyright agreements, a “lack of protest” from the artists, as well as the proposition that “if musicians retained copyright to their works at the time of performance and then agreed to a recording of their concerts, the musicians made an implied license for later use of the recordings.”

“Since the lawsuit was filed, Sagan’s attorneys at Winston & Strawn have attempted various tactics to battle claims that Wolfgang’s Vault lacks the requisite licenses to stream an estimated 2 billion recorded concert performances.”

R.E.M front man Michael Stipe, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and The Who’s Pete Townshend have all been implicated and “aren’t in a particularly cooperative mood.”

Read more about the legal battle at the Hollywood Reporter.