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Two years ago Don Henley threatened to sue Frank Ocean for performing “American Wedding,” the altered version of “Hotel California” that Ocean included on his star-making Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape. Sounds like Henley is still angry at Ocean. Henley had this to say to The Daily Telegraph:

I heard it. I was not impressed. He needs to come up with his own ideas and stop stealing stuff from already established works.

And this…

Mr. Ocean doesn’t seem to understand US copyright law. Anyone who knows anything should know you cannot take a master track of a recording and write another song over the top of it. You just can’t do that. You can call it a tribute or whatever you want to call it, but it’s against the law. That’s a problem with some of the younger generation, they don’t understand the concept of intellectual property and copyright.

And this…

(Mr. Ocean) was quite arrogant about it. We tried to approach him calmly to talk reason to him via his managers and his attorneys and he wouldn.t listen. So finally we threatened to bring legal action against him. He was clearly in the wrong. I wouldn’t dream of doing something like that. What kind of ego is that? I don’t understand it.

Ocean didn’t comment for the story, but his Tumblr post from the initial controversy still stands: “Ain’t this guy rich as fuck? Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything I’m paying homage.”

The Telegraph also mentions a second case of Henley hunting down those who’d dare reinterpret his work. Apparently he forbade Okkervil River from releasing a cover of his “The End Of The Innocence” for free online. Okkervil’s Will Sheff called Henley an “old-fashioned guy who doesn’t understand…it’s not like I was making money, I figure that’s all he f—ing cares about. It’s not like I was making money off it, but he still made me take it down.”

Henley also had a lot to say about the Okkervil cover:

They don’t understand the law either. You can’t re-write the lyrics to somebody else’s songs and record it and put it on the internet. I’m sorry, but it wasn’t an improvement. We were not impressed. So we simply had our legal team tell them to take it down and they got all huffy about it.

And this…

It’s a different mindset. I don’t know how they’d react if I took one of their songs and re-wrote the lyrics and recorded it, I don’t know if they’d like that. Maybe they wouldn’t care but I care. We work really really hard on our material. We spend months writing it and years recording it. You don’t go into a museum and paint a moustache on somebody else’s painting. Nobody would think of doing that.

And this…

You can record anyone’s song you like. It’s called a compulsory licence. That’s not what Mr. Ocean nor Okkervil River did. They took the song and they changed it. they put their own stuff on it. Michael Buble did a totally legal cover, that’s standard procedure.

So much for peaceful easy feelings, amirite?

[Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.]

UPDATE: Okkervil River’s Will Sheff has penned an essay for Rolling Stone in reponse to Henley’s comments. Sheff details how he fell in love with “The End Of The Innocence” when he heard it on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown as a kid: “I was 12 or 13, but the song made me feel like I was 56. And the way the verse and chorus interacted with each other musically was gorgeous.” And he explains that he ultimately fell in love with music from the folk tradition, which involves passing ideas around: “I realized that this is what artists are supposed to do – communicate back and forth with each other over the generations, take old ideas and make them new (since it’s impossible to really ’imitate’ somebody without adding anything of your own), create a rich, shared cultural language that was available to everybody.” Read Sheff’s full argument at Rolling Stone.

Comments (146)
  1. I don’t know who Don Henley is but he sounds like a real piece of shit.

  2. What a salty old man. If there’s no monetary compensation for the re-works, why does he care so much? Is he so prideful that he can’t stand to have people rework his songs and make their own mark? I don’t get it. But then again, I’m part of that younger generation.

  3. How many middle-adged dudes have made statements that include the words “…and that’s the problem with the younger generation…” while listening to The Eagles? They’re like the official band of “get off my lawn” fist-shakers everywhere.

  4. FIXED:

    “That’s a problem with some of the [older] generation, [we] don’t understand the concept of [mixtapes being released precisely because they can contain some elements of intellectual property and that they are released in the spirit of artistry and fun and completely free of charge to any fan or listener willing to give it the time].”

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  5. Well, that’s like your opinion, man.

  6. In other news: Cranky old man is cranky, old.

  7. His problem is his conception of covers replacing the original work. Like that “going to a museum and painting a mustache on a painting” — it’s like printing out a picture of a painting and drawing a mustache on that. The dude only sees the negatives of it and not the positive effect it could have in prolonging the life of his music. He really just wants it to be in a museum.

    • this is a spot on analogy. as long as they don’t make any money off of the songs it shouldn’t be a big deal. I mean I sympathize with his mindset I suppose, especially seeing he comes from a very different time, but in this day and age nothing is sacred on the internet and you just kind of got to get over it no matter how long it took you to record said songs. If I’m ever an old man in this situation I hope I’m stoked on the younger generation rather than bitter

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      • Yes, because my comment is still up there for everyone to see and no one’s gong to get the two confused. And you’re not charging 10 bucks to read your post.

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          • Of course you have the legal right to do something about it, and you always should, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a tremendously poor, short-sighted move.

            If Leonard Cohen wasn’t so cover-able and open to such interpretations, he would’ve more or less faded into an artifact of music history. Instead, because he secured placement in today’s cultural conversation, he got placement in media that wouldn’t otherwise cover him, a reverential spot at Coachella, a successful new world tour and currency with an entirely new, young fans. It’s a second wind in your career if you embrace it.

          • The Eagles don’t need a second wind to their career. If Henley doesn’t like the song a grammy winning singer overwrites on one of his band’s recordings then it is entirely Henley’s prerogative.

          • You’re arguing about rights and prerogative, but yeah, no one’s disputing that. We’re disputing whether that’s not a dick move. He’s absolutely allowed to be a dick, we just wish he wouldn’t because he stands to benefit. I know The Eagles still sell out stadiums in Bakersfield, but if he wanted to extend that — and avoid shutting down an entire demographic and relegating himself to being behind the glass of a museum — then he’d recognize the opportunity here for invigoration.

          • Actually, quite a few people here seem to be disputing that notion.

          • Argue with them, then? I think you’ll find that many of the people you _think_ are saying he doesn’t have a right to do this are in actuality saying this is a dumb action on his part.

    • No, he just doesn’t like having his property stolen. Whether you think theft is OK or not is beside the point.

      The Beach Boys robbed Chuck Berry blind and got rich off of “Surfin’ USA” without every acknowledging that they stole the entire melody, note-for-note, from “Sweet Little Sixteen.” Why is it OK to steal from Don Henley but not OK to steal from Chuck Berry? Because Don Henley is richer than Chuck Berry? That’s not the way it works.

      • Because Sheff nor Ocean are pretending that this is their original work and on reasonable person is under the impression that they wrote those songs/parts of songs. They’re not taking credit for anything.

  8. take it easy guys, we’d all be pretty bummed if that happened to our hair, too.

    • Yeah man, take it easy. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.

      • It is funny because that song was actually written by Jackson Browne and given to Glenn Frey of The Eagles, who modified the second verse. Understandably Jackson Browne gave them permission, but still, this should not be a foreign concept to Henley.

  9. And he’s talking about Frank Ocean’s ego. Jesus.

  10. Trying to imagine a future in which I’m rich and old, younger people are interested in something I made and I get angry about it.

  11. Should’ve just titled it “Aging Idiot Attempts To Remind Public He Is Still Alive, Somehow.”

  12. FIRST OF ALL, Bruce Hornsby wrote “End of the Innocence” and I can not imagine him being this big of a twat about this whole thing.

    Secondly: Don Henley is not an artist, he’s a venture capitalist.

  13. Fuck Don Henley. He should feel great that anyone under the age of 50 gives a shit about his shitty band.

    Even more ironic considering his shitty band’s most famous song is a rip off of a damn Jethro Tull song.

  14. Copyright laws are very clear. If you don’t have authorization of the artist, move on to something else. I’ve an idea, why not ask the author to use the song before you record it? Michael Jackson wouldn’t let the Beastie Boys use his material. I’m not a big Eagles fan but I do respect copyright laws. You can’t just take somebody else’s work and make it your own without permission. Whatever ageism you feel against Don Hendley is irrelevant. The law is on his side. The Eagles are still selling out stadiums so I really don’t think they are too concerned about people not knowing their music anymore.

    • I wouldn’t say “very clear,” especially in relation to rap/r&b mixtapes; it’s common practice to take someone’s instrumental, record new vocals over the top, and release it for free in the interest of self-promotion. Frank Ocean is just one of a line of musicians going back for years to do this, with very rare legal issues.

      He’s not “making it his own,” he’s creating a derivative work without profiting from it. Like wordcore said above, it’s like printing out a picture of someone’s painting and drawing a mustache on that. I think you’re pretty clearly wrong here.

      • Yes, but in regards to copyright issues, A) many artists do give their permission, and B) many that find out about it after the fact don’t care. However, if they did care, as Don Henley clearly does, they would have legal ground to stand on in regards to asking to have a song taken down, or in pursuing legal action if monetary gain was in question. Henley sounds out of touch and douchey, sure, but he is factually correct.

    • the mechanical license required for a cover song is compulsory. It doesn’t matter if he “allows” them to cover a song (if frank used the master recording, which it sounds like he did, he would be required to obtain separate rights to use that. although if he made a perfect note for note replica of the original he would be alright).

      The issue is mixtape culture and the idea that building a community of fans is equally- if not more- important than the $.01 per stream (less if they bought in bulk) that they technically owe the publishing company.

    • Actually, copyright laws aren’t terribly clear at all. Mostly that’s because an idea that was adopted to give creators an equity stake in their work (thereby promoting the production of works of artistic interest, which is in the interest of the common good), has been increasingly interpreted as a property right over the past century plus.

      Plus, there is the issue of fair use. Since neither group planned on profiting on the supposed violation of Henley copyright, and since substantial changes were made from the original work, they would have a fairly solid fair use defense if this ever made it to court.

  15. Don Henley and Jack White should hang out, if they don’t already. They could sit around talking about how cool they are and how other people keep ripping of their music and keep making shitty covers of their awesome original music. All while they listen to blue and folk records from the early to mid-20th century.

    • Jack White seems to have a greater appreciation and understanding for hip-hop culture though. Doubt he’d sue someone for rapping over “The Hardest Button to Button.”

    • james, while your comment appears clever on the surface- i think you really missed jack’s point in slamming the Keys. anyone who listens to the Stripes could tell you that White has covers on a good bit of their records and I don’t think the “thievery”, if you will, of intellectual property was his concern regarding the Keys. Jack White would probably laugh at Henley’s foolishness. You really think being upset about somebody covering a track of yours and thinking somebody is ripping your whole style of packaging and marketing an image and sound is the same thing? Because to me, it seems like two completely different things.

    • One thing we can all agree on: The Black Keys are garbage.

  16. Did he like the Ataris cover of boys of summer?

    • Doesn’t matter — they don’t need his permission if they paid him songwriting royalties.

      • They wouldn’t even have to do it. It all happens behind the scenes with publishers, lawyers, accountants, etc. The Atari’s should never even see his money if everything is working the way its supposed to work. Which, as many people have stated, is probably why he’s bent about people “reinterpreting” his songs and releasing them for free. Much harder for him to claim his cut.

  17. Don Henley didn’t even write Hotel California, Don Felder did! And Henley and Frey kicked him out of the group.

    • it does seem kind of odd that henley’s the one arcing up when his contribution to the song was the lyrics, which ocean didn’t use.

  18. I did a reinterpretation of “Life in the Fast Lane” in which I changed the lyrics to become entirely comprised of my farts. It’s on my new mixtape, hit up datpiff.

  19. Funny how it’s always people whose music hasn’t been relevant since the 80s (Don Henley, Metallica, Camper Van Beethoven, etc) who seem to have so much trouble understanding internet music culture.

    • In fairness, Metallica was relevant well into the 90s and they came around to the internet in time. Metallica is everywhere, unauthorized, on the internet these days.

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      • If you’re from a universe where Siamese Dream came out in the 80s, hook me up with with a inter-dimensional teleporter.

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          • adore is a pretty fantastic record. thats from 1998. and machina II is lauded and adored. thats from 02 i think ? also, say what you will but oceania from last year was excellent. relevance to me is determined by excellence.

      • Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that the Pumpkins have sadly been irrelevant since the 90s.

        Be that as it may, they were one of the first bands to release a new album for free online (Machina II) and they embraced internet music culture again when they did the weird Teargarden thing and released a song at a time for free on their website. I’ve never heard Corgan saying any cranky old-man things about copyright.

        So I’m not sure what your point is?

      • actually yeah i’ll give you this one

    • Don Henley must be relevant if a couple of well known artists want to use his music. And I saw The Eagles this year and they sold out the arena. So technically he’s still relevant.

      But yeah, Henley is kind of being a dick about it.

  20. Not that I support this bitter toolbag of a musician, but Nostalgia, technically, is not a free mixtape anymore. Frank should be paying some sorta royalty unfortunately. Just go ask Girl Talk how that whole thing works. Now, the fact he needs to be such a dickwad about it is an entirely different argument. I don’t see Radiohead, Coldplay or MGMT bein’ all whiny about it. Go back to bed, Henley.

  21. funniest part about this is…American Wedding is a total POS Song…maybe thats why Henley is pissed

    • I gotta agree. That being said, as someone who was forced to listen to Don Henley for the first 12 years of his life, I can’t really stand his music, either.

    • i LOVE notalgia, ultra and american wedding is SUCH a low point.

    • You guys wouldn’t feel this way if you’d gotten married young and gotten a divorce.

      Not that that’s what happened to me, I just feel confident it would effect the appreciation of the song….

  22. Boy, wait til he hears “The Wire”

  23. The only thing in music worse than stealing someone else’s song is if you make a bad song out of it and also try to be a law-breaking arrogant turd about it.

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    • The argument here is that the song in question has been re-appropriated onto a free mix-tape. Ocean gains nothing off of the re-appropriation of the song (as does Henley) so there should really be no issues whatsoever here.

      Every musician ever from Handel to Haim has re-appropriated some musical phrase or entire melody either knowingly or otherwise. The very idea of someone having some vastly original sounding music anymore is borderline fallacy. Barring someone doing something similar to what Schoenberg did with atonal music, all music is re-appropriation in one way or another (and even if one does pull a Schoenberg, one is simply re-appropriating and re-doing what Schoenberg already did).

      Sure, a musical phrase or melody is different than re-appropriating the entire song measure for measure, but again, when there is nil commercial value to be made, there should not be an issue. The re-appropriation of a phrase, melody, or even entire song, should not diminish one’s listening experience. If anything, it should open more avenues of musical thought and exploration.

      • Ocean copies the melody of the vox almost to the T… i was really embarrassed for him the first time I heard the song…as I’m sure Henley was

      • How is there ‘nil commercial value to be made’ in the re-appropriation of one of the most well-known songs of the past 40 years in order to promote oneself?

        • This is actually a great point, and the part of your argument I agree with. You’re just presenting yourself very aggressively and coming off as a dick, which is probably why you’re getting mindlessly downvoted.

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        • “calling the whole thing your own enterprise” I don’t think that accurately describes what is being done. He’s using an existing creation and layering his own over it. It’s a valid form of creativity, as long as he’s not charging for it, or claiming that the original track is his own creation, then what’s the problem?

          • He didn’t have permission to use the original, preexisting work and when the owners of said work found out about it later, they were pissed. If a photographer saw his image used by someone else with an additional image photoshopped on top of it, he could sue. Plagiarized words used in another creation? A crime. Any unauthorized use of another persons intellectual is against the law to varying degrees (depending on what length they’ve gone to in protecting said work). You argument is the exact one used in the early days of sampling and the legal system chose to disagree. You must have permission to legally sample another artists work that is not in the public domain. That being the case, one would CLEARLY need permission to use the entire song.

          • *intellectual property

          • again, using another’s work as part of your own as a creative endeavor is one thing. Selling that work as your own is another thing entirely.

  25. I definitely don’t buy the idea that Frank Ocean isn’t making money off the track. It’s still used as marketing for him to sell more tickets to shows, other songs that are for sale, more merch etc.

  26. “You don’t go into a museum and paint a moustache on somebody else’s painting. Nobody would think of doing that.”

    Oh, is that really so. mr. Henley? Marcel Duchamp might disagree with you there…

    • Fair enough, he drew the mustache and the beard on a mere postcard and not on the original painting hanging in the Louvre, but still…

      • which makes your poin stronger and Henley’s example weaker.

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          • Frank Ocean didn’t use the only existing master copy of the song. And you claim that Ocean is not re-contextualizing the song at all, but then go on to explain how Ocean gives the song new context. ??

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        • The Mona Lisa, I would imagine, was already in the public domain at the time. Nobody owns the rights to that image.

          • i would guess that if Henley has his way his music will never be in the public domain… ever, even 1000 years after he’s long gone…

            i mean just think about how much the concept of public domain is eroding

  27. Squint real hard and tell me that doesn’t look like Mark Kozelek.

  28. don henley is the deadhead sticker on the cadillac.

  29. Didn’t The Ataris change the lyrics from “Deadhead sticker” to “Black Flag sticker” in their cover? I guess if they paid for it it doesn’t matter? But can you pay an artist to go into a museum and paint a mustache on their painting?

  30. Scheff’s response is besides the point. It’s one thing to take a folk song with a nursery rhyme melody that has been passed around artists for a few hundred years, and make your own version.

    It’s quite another thing to take a modern pop song and make your own version of it without the writer’s permission.

    • If you’re just releasing it without charge, just for people to enjoy, then why in the hell not? It’s not like he’s pretending it’s entirely his own creation. If you’re not trying to take credit or compensation, then I honestly don’t see the problem.

    • This is an interesting distinction because what makes a folk song okay to pass around other than someone started with the first pass? Like if we take his Guthrie example, he’s not totally separated by hundreds of years from the Carter Family, and if their song draws from Baptist gospels, what makes those gospels less worthy of the sacrosanct treatment?

      • After 75 or 100 years, the writer’s rights expire.

        • Agreed (although that number keeps getting extended by Disney) but the Carter family was around for Guthrie and all those Baptist gospels we’ve ripped off were certainly around to be passed and transformed too, right?

          • Not sure about the specifics, but generally the Carters used a lot of “traditional” melodies and they were part of a folk tradition that passed things around. Not the same as a commercial pop song.

        • The law does not determine what is right and what is wrong. The question of what is right and wrong is a tricky one that comprises the branch of philosophy known as ethics. The law simply determines when force will be used against individuals by whichever group is in power. One hopes that the law will mirror ethics, but there are countless examples throughout history and at present where this is not the case. You cannot simply point to the law to determine what is right and wrong. Stating when the writer’s rights expire does not sufficiently address the problem at this issue’s core.

          Many people feel that copyright law and the cultural effects of copyright law are harmful and not ethically sound. Most of those people are probably in solidarity with Frank Ocean and Will Sheff. Others feel that copyright law is sound, or at least beneficial to them personally, and some don’t care or have never considered that something like copyright law could be harmful, unethical, or unnecessary and those groups of people are likely to side with Don Henley.

          • Your conception of law is a good one, but in this case I think the law clearly lines up with the ethics. Is there any serious case that copyright law is problematic? All I’ve heard is some theoretical rambling from people like Lawrence Lessig that don’t actually care about protecting the rights of creators. And some people who steal a lot of music like to rationalize their behavior by invoking some theoretical problem with copyright law.

  31. I think we should all record a re-imagined version of Hotel California, compile them, and release them for free as an online mixtape. His head would explode!

    • For anyone who can’t be bothered to click the link:

      “Naw – I don’t like the Eagles. They’re about as exciting as watching paint dry. Their albums are good for keeping the dust off your turntable and that’s about all.” – Tom Waits

  32. ” Anyone who knows anything should know you cannot take a master track of a recording and write another song over the top of it”

    this sounded like a challenge to me, and I accepted:

  33. Boys. Boys. BOYS! Please…you’re all terrible.

  34. I’m laughing so fucking hard.

  35. Intellectual property rights are bullshit. These property rights simply let a handful of big, multinational corporations and1%-capitalists like Henley have absolute control of inventions that are of great benefit to all mankind.

    Gee, I’d like to save you from that disease but you cant afford to pay me for this drug I’ve patented, and I’m not going to let anybody else manufacture it, either.

    I realize you’re starving, but you cant plant that seed for food because we patented the seed’s genome.

    Sure, Don Felder’s guitar would sound really cool behind your lyrics, but the rich and powerful have created copyright laws that allow me to put a song into the public domain while claiming at the same time I still own it.

    Junior-lawyers like Henley see art as just something else they can monetize.

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  37. “If a photographer saw his image used by someone else with an additional image photoshopped on top of it, he could sue.”

    Yes, he could sue, but he might not win because there could be a fair use involved – see Carious v. Prince (2013)

    “Plagiarized words used in another creation? A crime.”

    A crime? Who ever called the police over plagiarism?

    “Any unauthorized use of another persons intellectual is against the law to varying degrees (depending on what length they’ve gone to in protecting said work).”

    Unless it’s a fair use or falls under any number of other exceptions to infringement.

  38. You know what, love Don Henley or hate him, the man has a point. He cannot stop anyone from recording his material; you can record it and do whatever you want to it. But you have to pay the licensing fee when you do. Steal from him, pay “homage” to him, rewrite, rearrange, rework, vandalize, whatever. Just don’t expect to do it for free.

    What is Mr. Ocean’s position on the Beach Boys robbing Chuck Berry blind for “Surfin’ USA”?

    • So if I record myself singing new lyrics on top of Hotel California and put it on Youtube, I have to not only ask Don Henley’s permission, but pay him money as well?

      Anyone who thinks about that for two minutes can see how asinine it is. Youtube is littered with people reinterpreting other music. If you’re giving it away for free, who honestly cares about licensing?

      • You should have to pay money to whoever owns that song, definitely. Rappers have to pay to clear samples all the time. Why should it matter whether you’re giving it away for free or not? You’re using something that doesn’t belong to you. YouTube, when they become aware that a work is a cover or that it includes a sample, can, and often do, collect royalties on behalf of the copyright owners.

        • So all those bedroom amateurs posting acoustic guitar covers on Youtube should be paying royalties? Give me a break.

          Should my friend’s band send Greg Ginn a check every time they cover “My War” live? Sometimes they even charge admission to their shows!

          Amateur musicians usually don’t have the money to be paying anybody royalties. They’re just sharing their enthusiasm for their favorite songs with others. Should nobody be playing covers until they can afford to do so?

    • The Beach Boys have been paying Chuck Berry royalties for that song since around the time of its release, and that case set a precedent in pop music. You’re comparing apples to oranges though. The Beach Boys were trying to make money off of Surfin’ USA.

      • The Beach Boys only started crediting and paying royalties to Berry after Berry’s publisher threatened to sue them; it took years before Berry got paid.

        • It may have taken a while for the financial ball to actually get rolling, but there wasn’t that long between the song’s release and the point where Murry Wilson signed away all of Surfin’ USA’s royalties to Chuck Berry. In fact, Chuck Berry was getting all the royalties for 25 years before the Beach Boys ever heard about it.

  39. All artists for the history of all time hone their craft by copying and borrowing from other artists. Often very directly. That’s just the way creativity works. I simply argue that that should only be a legal issue if the artist doing the borrowing tries to sell and directly profit or claim credit for that work.

  40. Don Henley is wrong when he says you can’t change a cover song. Of course you can. Every time you record a cover it changes in either small or large ways. The only thing Okkervil River has to do is pay the legally determined licensing fee for recording and streaming a cover song. If Okkervil River didn’t do that, they’re in the wrong, but Henley is dead wrong when he says you’re not allowed to change the lyrics on a cover song.

  41. Don Henley and the Eagles covered songs like JD Souther’s “How Long,” they collaborated with Jackson Browne on Take it Easy and let Linda Ronstandt cover their own “Desperado” which actually gave the Eagles mainstream notoriety for the first time. I’m sure he gets how collaboration works. Point is, it doesn’t matter if a band releases material for homage purposes and doesn’t “make a dime” off the work. The issue is that Frank Ocean and Okkervill River get real hits, listens, and views just by tagging along with the Eagles name. And thats the issue.

    Henley and Frey had this issue come up when they reunited in the 1990s. They were the writers of nearly all their major hits and they had successful solo careers that kept the Eagles name relevant in the bands collective absence. They deserved to be paid more than the others and Don Felder disagreed. At the end of the day, Don Henley and the Eagles are owners of the greatest selling album of the 20th century, they should be able to say who can cover their songs or not.

  42. WHOA!! So much dialogue…..and all so unnecessary.

    It’s theft. And every one of us knows it.

  43. A mixtape is a form of advertising, promotion. It helps sets his fees for tours, festivals, and collaborations on other artists records. It promotes the records he does sell. If you were on the Beastie Boys side in their recent litigations and are complaining about Don Henley, you are a hypocrite.

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