Never Tear Us Apart: court battles over INXS fortune

Most of us would know Australian rock band INXS for their hits “New Sensation” and “Need You Tonight” from the late ‘80s.  Or the younger readers among us would remember the airing of the reality TV show Rock Star: INXS in 2005, featuring 15 contestants competing for role of lead singer.  Believe it or not, 15 million viewers tuned in to watch Canadian vocalist J.D. Fortune win the title. 

This year however, INXS is being sued by Chardonnay Investments Limited (custodian of the intellectual property of Michael Hutchence) for allegedly breaching a partnership agreement.  Chardonnay is claiming that the breach by INXS Productions Pty Ltd and others (including current band members) has resulted in the exclusion of Chardonnay from sharing equally in royalties earned by the band.  The claim seeks a declaration that Chardonnay was and is a partner in the “INXS partnership”, and that an order be made to wind up the partnership so that the accounts can be divvied up appropriately.  The NSW Supreme Court has ordered that Chardonnay’s claim be amended so that of the current band members, only co-writer and keyboardist Andrew Farriss remains as a defendant.

While it bought the rights to the airplay of Hutchence’s songs and use of his image four years before Hutchence’s death in 1997, Chardonnay has not revealed who is behind the company, and who will benefit from the divvying up of the accounts.  Speculation is rife and a number of commentators have suggested that Chardonnay was set up in the interests of Tiger Lily, Hutchence’s daughter. 

In a separate law suit, there are allegations by an internet executive named Robert Manning that INXS and its long serving manager, David Edwards, stole his design for an INXS website using sponsorship from big retail brands.  On the site, loyalty points would be redeemable for merchandise from the retail brands.  INXS and Edwards are accused of creating a site that is “substantially similar” to the one created by Manning.

Despite their legal troubles, INXS continue to perform, recently appearing at the AFL Grand Final (the drawn match) and the ARIAs with Dan Sultan.  While Fortune’s relationship with the band has been tumultuous (Fortune revealed on Entertainment Tonight Canada that in 2009 the band let him go with a shake of the hand at Hong Kong airport), the band has announced that he’ll be touring with them in February 2011.  INXS fans may be getting excited, but the purists among us might agree with one Whiteboard team member’s comment that “J D Fortune + left over INXS band members, does not equal INXS”.

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