Handwritten lyrics from The Eagles are at the center of a unique legal battle

In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, Don Henley, left, and Glenn Frey of The Eagles perform on the “History of the Eagles” tour at the Forum, in Los Angeles.
In this Jan. 15, 2014 file photo, Don Henley, left, and Glenn Frey of The Eagles perform on the “History of the Eagles” tour at the Forum, in Los Angeles. | John Shearer, Invision via Associated Press
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More than four decades ago, roughly 100 pages of song lyrics from Don Henley and Glen Frey, co-founders of The Eagles, were obtained by Ed Sanders, a journalist working on a biography of the famous band.

Through a series of debated events, the handwritten lyrics landed in the hands of three men — Glenn Horowitz, Craig Inciardi and Edward Kosinski — who allegedly attempted to obscure how they obtained the documents in order to sell them, setting a legal battle in motion.

This week, Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinski will stand trial on the charge of conspiracy in the fourth degree, a crime that’s punishable by up to four years in prison. All three men pleaded not guilty to the charges, per The Associated Press.

The men haven’t been charged with stealing the documents. Though prosecution will need to establish the notebooks were stolen, the trial will focus on what the three men did while in possession of the notebooks, The Associated Press reported.

In 2012, Henley, who is expected to testify in this month’s trial, discovered the notebooks were being sold online. He purchased a small portion of the notes for $8,500. Henley later filed a stolen goods report with the Manhattan district attorney’s office, per Rolling Stone.

Antonia Apps, Kosinski’s lawyer, claims the case that resulted from that report is “unreasonable,” given that authorities seized the documents years before filing charges against the three men.

“This case was brought to the Grand Jury some six years after the DA was first aware of the core allegations,” Apps wrote in a legal motion, per Billboard. “The allegations concern conduct that took place nearly 50 years ago, and the individual who claims the property belongs to him (Mr. Henley) has known about the alleged theft of the lyrics since at least 2012, when he first brought the matter to the attention of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office (which appears to have taken no action).”

This case could serve as a reminder of how careful you must be when collecting and selling cultural artifacts, notes Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“New York is a world-class hub for art and culture, and those who deal cultural artifacts must scrupulously follow the law,” Bragg said in a press release when announcing the charges in 2022. “There is no room for those who would seek to ignore the basic expectations of fair dealing and undermine the public’s confidence and trust in our cultural trade for their own ends.”

A timeline of the ‘Hotel California’ lyrics case

1976: Journalist Ed Sanders begins working on a biography for The Eagles. After years of work, the four-volume text — which Sanders would have titled “This American Band: The Story of the Eagles” — was shelved, per the Los Angeles Times. The Eagles had broken up by that point.

  • During his writing process, Sanders allegedly obtained roughly 100 pages of handwritten lyrics for the band’s Grammy-winning song “Hotel California,” as well as for “Life in the Fast Lane,” “New Kid in Town” and other songs, per Bragg’s press release.

  • “The manuscripts were originally stolen in the late 1970s by an author who had been hired to write a biography of the band,” reads the press release, which summarized the indictment.

  • “Mr. Sanders had been asked by the rock group the Eagles to write their official biography,” wrote Horowitz’s lawyer, Jonathan Bach, per Billboard. “He traveled with the band and obtained possession of voluminous materials, including handwritten drafts of Eagles’ lyrics.”

2005: Sanders sold the entire collection of notepads to rare-books dealer Glenn Horowitz for $50,000, per Rolling Stone magazine.

  • Horowitz later sold the collection to Craig Inciardi, a former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame curator, and Edward Kosinski, owner of memorabilia company Gotta Have Rock and Roll, per Rolling Stone. Inciardi and Kosinski allegedly attempted to sell the lyrics.

  • According to Bragg, the men “attempted to keep and sell these unique and valuable manuscripts, despite knowing they had no right to do so. They made up stories about the origin of the documents and their right to possess them so they could turn a profit.”

2012: Four pages of working lyrics for “Hotel California” are listed on Kosinski’s memorabilia site, Gotta Have Rock and Roll, per the Los Angeles Times. Don Henley purchases the pages himself for $8,500.

2016: Sotheby’s — an auction site — lists “Hotel California” lyrics for sale but withdrew them upon discovering the paper’s legitimate ownership was murky. (Sotheby’s is not charged in the case.)

  • Using Internet Archive, you can see the original Sotheby’s listing. The listing describes the item as 14 pages of “original autograph manuscript of ‘Hotel California’” and estimates the value of the documents at $500,000-$700,000.

  • According to court documents, “Beginning in December 2016, the District Attorney’s Office executed a series of search warrants and retrieved Don Henley’s stolen manuscripts from Sotheby’s and from Kosinski’s New Jersey residence, including 84 pages to songs from the album ‘Hotel California.’”

2019: The Manhattan district attorney’s office raids the men’s homes, per Rolling Stone. They leave with 84 pages of handwritten lyrics related to the “Hotel California” album, as well as 1,300 pages of paperwork and several electronic devices.

  • At the time of the arrests, Eagles manager Irving Azoff said, “This action exposes the truth about music memorabilia sales of highly personal, stolen items hidden behind a facade of legitimacy. No one has the right to sell illegally obtained property or profit from the outright theft of irreplaceable pieces of musical history,” per Rolling Stone.

2022: The Manhattan District Attorney’s office charges Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinski with conspiracy in the fourth degree. Inciardi and Kosinski are also charged with criminal possession of stolen property in the first degree.

  • Lawyers for the defendants filed a motion for the dismissal of the case, on the grounds the lyrics were not stolen. “The Indictment nowhere alleges that Mr. Sanders stole or improperly obtained any materials,” wrote Horowitz’s lawyer Jonathan Bach, per Billboard. The motion was denied.


What are the official charges?

Horowitz, Inciardi and Kosinski are all charged with conspiracy in the fourth degree “involving the possession of approximately 100 pages of Don Henley’s handwritten notes and lyrics for the Eagles album ‘Hotel California,’per the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to the following charges:

Glenn Horowitz

  • Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, one count.

  • Attempted Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree, one count.

  • Hindering Prosecution in The Second Degree, two counts.

Craig Inciardi

  • Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, one count.

  • Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree, one count.

Edward Kosinski

  • Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, one count.

  • Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree, one count.

When is the trial? Will Don Henley testify?

The non-jury trial begins in Manhattan on Wednesday, Feb. 21, per Vulture. The trial is estimated to last around 10 days. Henley is expected to testify. He begins touring with The Eagles on March 1, so it is likely he will testify before then.