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When Capricorn Records founder Philip M. Walden left artifacts from Georgia’s music history to gather dust in his company label’s abandoned studio, he lost them for good, the Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled. According to the decision, the memorabilia includes “press clippings, promotional materials, T-shirts, engagement contracts (inclusive of Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Allman Brothers), master tapes and gold records.” Walden left the items in Capricorn’s old studio building in Macon, Ga., when he moved the label to Nashville, Tenn., in the 1980s. The tapes are not included in the suit, however. Sanders says Capricorn offered the master tapes to PolyGram Records as collateral for a loan. When Capricorn failed, representatives from PolyGram took the tapes they wanted and left the remainder, which Jones now claims. In 1996, Walden learned that Dr. J. Gregory Jones had acquired the memorabilia after buying the building in 1992, and was planning to auction it on the Internet. Walden filed a declaratory judgment against Jones in Bibb County, Ga., Superior Court, asking the court to award the property to him, bar Jones from marketing or selling it in the meantime, and award him damages for conversion of property. Walden v. Jones, No. 00CV8806 (Bibb Super. March 23, 2000). Judge G. Bryant Culpepper declined to grant Walden’s petition for a permanent injunction, and awarded the boxes to Jones. Walden appealed, and the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld Culpepper’s order in a decision Nov. 19. Walden v. Jones, No. A01A0231 (Ct. App. Ga. Nov. 19, 2001). Walden’s lawyer, Leon S. Jones of Jones & Walden in Atlanta, and Dr. Jones’ lawyer, Scott D. Sanders, both described the case as a rare chance for the courts to determine ownership of this kind of music memorabilia. Contracts, canceled checks and promotional photos initially worth little often become very valuable with the passage of time, they say. Leon Jones, whose law partner is Walden’s son, Philip M. Walden Jr., says the dispute centers on “an important part of the musical heritage of every Georgian.” Walden, he says, wants to keep the material together for future musical researchers. “You can’t recompile it,” he says. In his opinion for the panel, which also comprised Presiding Judge J.D. Smith and Judge John J. Ellington, Judge Frank M. Eldridge noted that O.C.G.A. � 9-3-32 leaves owners a four-year window to assert a claim for personal property. Walden didn’t claim his label’s material until 2000 — about nine years after he had his chance to assert his ownership in 1991. Eldridge cited Maslia v. Hall, 121 Ga. App. 740, 743, (2) (175 SE2d 48) (1970) in the court’s decision. REPRESENTED RISING ACTS Walden operated Capricorn Records out of a building in Macon. In its heyday during the late ’60s and ’70s, the label’s artist list included Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers. “You name any R&B artist of that era and Phil Walden was probably the booking agent for them at one time or another,” Sanders says. In the 1990s, Capricorn represented rising young acts like Widespread Panic, 311, Vic Chesnutt, Galactic, Cake and Jucifer. The label sold most of its assets to Volcano records in New York in 1999. Walden now runs Atlanta’s Velocette Records with his sons and daughter. Capricorn found itself in financial trouble in the 1980s. In 1986, as he tried to re-establish the label in Nashville, Walden sold the Macon building to Robert Lewis, a friend since high school. Lewis agreed to allow Walden to keep some of his label’s property in the building until the company got settled in Nashville. However, in September 1991, Lewis defaulted on the promissory note he executed with BankSouth when he bought the building. The bank foreclosed, and Lewis contacted Walden’s brother to tell him to get Capricorn’s memorabilia out of the building before the bank took over. Walden sent his brother and nephew to the building with a truck, and they “removed what they believed to be all of the memorabilia from the building and returned it to Walden in Tennessee. Nonetheless, memorabilia remained,” Eldridge wrote. J. Gregory Jones bought the building from the bank in April 1992, including the memorabilia inside it. According to the warranty deed, the bank only conveyed the building to Jones, but in 1995 it quitclaimed the material to him. Some of the memorabilia at issue was piled around the building, Sanders says, and water and age had destroyed much of it. Jones preserved what he could by boxing it, and threw away the rest. Among the contracts, canceled checks with the artists’ signatures, and promotional material, Sanders says, are some 1,600 master recordings of jam sessions of legendary musicians Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers and Wilson Pickett. “Dr. Jones is in the process of cataloguing who’s on the tapes,” he says. “We really don’t know all of what the material is — other than that there’s a lot of it.” In December 1996, Walden heard reports that Jones had loaned some of the material to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He wrote to Jones and demanded that he return the material. Jones then sold the building, but not for the memorabilia, to Mercer University in Macon, Ga., in March 2000. Sanders says he considered auctioning some of the property, but Walden sued that same month to stop him. “Our goal is to preserve it as a whole for future researchers,” Leon Jones says. On appeal, Walden argued that Dr. Jones had failed to introduce any evidence that Walden had intended to abandon the boxes. The court had applied incorrectly a negligence standard in regard to his abandonment of the label’s property, he maintained. But the appeals panel disagreed. In his decision, Eldridge noted that Walden never inventoried the material when he left for Nashville, and never catalogued the items his brother and nephew had cleared from the building. The letter Walden wrote to Jones in 1996, Eldridge wrote, was the first time Walden ever lay claim to the boxes. “Under these circumstances, the superior court did not err in finding that Walden abandoned all the memorabilia which remained in the building after accepting delivery of the memorabilia which his agents moved to him,” Eldridge wrote. SCRAMBLING FOR THE LAW Sanders says the dispute sent the lawyers and judge scrambling back to their law school texts to find law on the issue. “It really deals with personal property issues,” he says. “And there are so few cases on personal property.” The statute, he says, simply doesn’t allow Walden to return and lay claim to the label’s material after years of leaving it neglected in a building that has gone through three other owners. “I understand Phil Walden’s trying to get this stuff back,” Sanders says. “But there comes a time when you just can’t recover it any more.” Walden’s lawyer Jones says he and his client are considering asking the Georgia Supreme Court to grant certiorari on the case. “Our concern is who owns it,” he says. “And we believe it belongs to us.”

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