Dave DiMartino
March 19, 1993 AT 05:00 AM EST

Will Don Henley become the music industry’s first free agent? Henley wants out of his contract with Geffen Records, and Geffen, in turn, is suing Henley for $30 million to make sure that doesn’t happen. The legal battle is being closely watched by everyone who makes or markets music.

Geffen Records’ suit contends Henley is in breach of contract since he owes the label two more albums under a 1984 agreement (which was renewed in 1988). The former Eagle maintains the deal is null and void primarily because of a ”key man” clause in the contract that guaranteed that powermeister David Geffen would run the label on a day-to-day basis. More important, say insiders, is Henley’s second contention — that his contract with Geffen is unenforceable because California law limits to seven the number of years a company can tie up an artist.

In addition, the 45-year-old singer has long been upset about Geffen’s marketing of his music, a source says, and has often disagreed about such matters as choice of single, videos, advertising, and promotion. Henley’s last album, 1989’s The End of the Innocence, sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.

Representing Henley will be L.A.-based entertainment lawyer Don Engel, who has successfully argued contract disputes for Olivia Newton-John, Teena Marie, Boston’s Tom Scholz, and Luther Vandross. ”These artists feel they must make changes,” Engel says. ”And the company’s position is that the artist is theirs for life.” While some of these cases were settled with renegotiated contracts, Henley seems intent on taking his dispute to the limit.

Court proceedings are scheduled for mid-April, but don’t expect to hear a new Henley album any time soon. ”You have two very strong-willed people — Geffen and Henley,” says a source close to the singer. ”And two strong-willed people generally never seem to agree on things.”

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