Former Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten has told a court that an agreement over music rights at the centre of a dispute between him and his ex-bandmates “smacks of slave labour”.
Drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones want tracks to be used in Pistol, an upcoming TV series about the anarchic band to be made by Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, but Rotten (real name John Lydon) has said it is “disrespectful” and has refused to give permission.
Cook and Jones are suing Lydon, saying 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”.
The punk group’s ex-lead singer argues that permission to use tracks from the band’s back catalogue in the show, which is based on a 2016 memoir by Jones called Lonely Boy: Tales From A Sex Pistol, and is being made by Disney, cannot be granted without his consent.
Giving evidence at the Rolls court building in London on Wednesday, Lydon said that up until now the Sex Pistols have managed to agree how to conduct their business with “unanimity” and that the legal case is “infuriating”.
In a witness statement, he said: “The BMA has never been applied in anything we have ever done since 1998.
“It also seems completely unnecessary because there is no point in me being here or ever was if it is the case that I can just be completely outvoted by the vested interests of all in one management camp… and there is no way around that.
“That is like a total trap or prison and my fear is that they’re demanding that I agree to sign over the rights to a drama documentary that I am not allowed any access to.
“To me that smacks of some kind of slave labour.”
Lydon said he does not understand how his former bandmates “think they have the right to insist that I do something that I so morally heart and soul disagree with, without any involvement”.
He continued: “It is infuriating to me. It has always been that with regard to all decisions about the Sex Pistols music and imagery, that they are unanimous.”
Edmund Cullen, who is representing Jones and Cook, suggested that Lydon’s reference to “slave labour” is a sign of “how deeply you regret having signed the BMA”.
The barrister added: “Given that you regard it as slave labour, you will do whatever it takes to try and get out of it. You will do whatever it takes up to and including giving false evidence.”
“False evidence?” Lydon responded. “I’m sorry, how? Where?”
He added: “I don’t think the BMA applies and so I would resist that. I didn’t ask for this court case, it was brought to me, so I will naturally defend myself.”
Mr Lydon said he cannot understand legal documents and that they “terrify” him.
Known for tracks such as God Save The Queen and Anarchy In The UK, the Sex Pistols 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, Cook accepted that the legal action probably means that the Sex Pistols are “gone for good”.
Earlier in the hearing, Jones said he thinks Lydon is “a total d***”, but added: “This is not about slagging anyone off in this TV series at all.”
Jones and Cook’s barrister Mr Cullen has previously told the court in written submissions that original band member Glen Matlock, who was replaced by Sid Vicious, and the representatives of the estate of Sid Vicious, who died in February 1979, support their position.
Pistol, a six-part series, is due to air on the Disney-owned US network FX on Hulu in 2022.
Lydon has previously said of the plans: “Poor old Johnny Rotten is the victim of Mickey Mouse.”