Trial begins over ownership of handwritten lyrics to ‘Hotel California’

Memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski, left, and former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi are seated in the defendants chair in the supreme court, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in New York. A criminal case involving handwritten lyrics to the classic rock megahit “Hotel California” and other Eagles favorites went to trial Wednesday in New York, with three men accused of scheming to thwart band co-founder Don Henley’s efforts to reclaim the allegedly ill-gotten documents. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK — Nearly half a century after “Hotel California” became a rock megahit, three men went on trial Wednesday in a criminal case about what became of a cache of hand-drafted lyrics to the song and other Eagles favorites.

The case centers on roughly 100 pages of legal-pad pages inscribed with developmental versions of some of the most well-known lines in the rock songbook.


The key witness is expected to be Eagles co-founder Don Henley, who wants to recover the manuscripts. The defendants are all well-established professionals in the collectibles world, and they got the documents from a writer and 1960s counterculture figure with rock roots of his own.

Prosecutors say the defendants — rare-books dealer Glenn Horowitz, former Rock &Roll Hall of Fame curator Craig Inciardi, and memorabilia seller Edward Kosinski — peddled the pages while knowing their ownership history was shaky at best. Then, prosecutors claim, the men schemed to thwart Henley’s efforts to reclaim what he says are stolen pieces of his legacy.

“The defendants were not businessmen acting in good faith, but criminal actors,” Nicholas Penfold, an assistant Manhattan district attorney, said in an opening statement.

The men have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to possess stolen property. Their lawyers say the documents simply weren’t stolen and that the men did nothing illegal by buying or trying to sell them.

“They have accused three innocent men of a crime that never occurred,” Inciardi’s lawyer, Stacey Richman, said during opening statements.

The defense says Henley voluntarily gave away the documents and leveraged prosecutors to try to take them back. The prosecution effectively makes a crime out of any circumstance in which “a celebrity tells you, ‘That property is mine,’ and you don’t give it back when they ask for it,” said one of Kosinski’s lawyers, Matthew LaRoche.

The trial concerns about 100 pages of drafts of song lyrics from the 1976 release “Hotel California,” which is the third-biggest selling album ever in the U.S.

The documents include lyrics-in-development for the songs “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town” and, of course, “Hotel California.” If scorned by some as an overexposed artifact of the ’70s, the Grammy-winning song is still a touchstone on classic rock radio and many personal playlists.

The case was brought in 2022, a decade after some of the pages began popping up for auction and Henley took notice — and took umbrage. He bought four pages for $8,500 but also reported the documents stolen, prosecutors said.

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