PORTLAND, Maine — A dispute between two British companies over the release rights to recordings from rock bands including the Beatles and Led Zeppelin could be decided in a Maine court.
Portland-based Bee Load Ltd. claims that the British Broadcasting Corp.´s marketing arm, BBC Worldwide, reneged on a seven-year-old music licensing and distribution agreement. Bee Load´s suit in Cumberland County Superior Court seeks millions of dollars in damages.
Justice Thomas Humphrey´s ruling means the lawsuit _ involving rare tapes of legendary performers like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Who _ will be heard by a jury this year.
Bee Load is partly owned by the rock drummer Mick Fleetwood, an original member of Fleetwood Mac, and his accountant, Joseph McNulty of Cape Elizabeth. The company was established to produce and sell hundreds of hours of live performances through a contract with BBC Worldwide.
The ruling lifts a temporary stop to the information gathering phase of the case which was halted in August when the BBC filed a motion claiming that the lawsuit belonged in the High Court of London.
Bee Load´s lawyer said the judge made the right decision.
"We are an American company, so we wanted to sue in an American court," said Paul McDonald. "This is where we are located so this is our preferred venue."
The BBC runs two British televisions stations and five national radio stations. Even though it is organized under British Law, Bee Load lists Portland as its primary place of business, near McNulty´s home.
Bee Load claims that it had an agreement with BBC Worldwide to produce and market CDs culled from archive tapes, which include 14 hours of unreleased music by the Beatles.
Bee Load claims that BBC has released records without sharing the profits, in violation of the contract.
Humphrey´s decision was a victory for Bee Load, said Peter DeTroy, a Portland lawyer who handled the international litigation.
By keeping the case close to home, Bee Load will be able to better control its legal costs and will be less likely to be manipulated with unfamiliar court procedures, he said.
"It´s not a make or break thing, but it´s a very positive development for the plaintiff," DeTroy said.
The BBC has said the case should be dismissed under a legal doctrine that says a court should dismiss a case if it "furthers the ends of justice" for it to be considered somewhere else.
Most of the witnesses and all the documents for the case are in Great Britain, a claim McNulty and other witnesses disputed.
But Humphrey ruled that the inconvenience balanced out.
"Although the defendant´s essential witnesses will be inconvenienced by participation in Maine-based litigation, the plaintiffs´ essential witnesses would be equally inconvenienced by participation in litigation in England," he said.
The case could go to trial as early as next September, McDonald said.