Friday, 31 July 2009

Copyright – no time limit in England – Procol Harum case

Copyright is a right in property and (per Lord Hope) in English law there’s no time limit on claims to copyright (though the position is less certain in Scotland).

So held in the case involving famous band Procol Harum where Matthew Fisher (now a programmer, interestingly), who was responsible for the famous organ solo in the band’s classic song A Whiter Shade of Pale, sued (many years after the event) for recognition that:

  • he was a co-author of that song,
  • he was a joint owner in its musical copyright (40% share), and
  • the licence to exploit the work was revoked in 2005.

All 3 declarations were agreed by the House of Lords, except that the last point might need changing to keep open an issue as to whether the original record company’s rights had been assigned to another party.

One key lesson (this is not legal advice, just general information, seek specific advice on your own situation etc): especially when using session musicians (a slightly different situation, I know), it looks like it would be a good idea to make sure that:

  • their rights are assignable (if they’re over 18, that would help!), and
  • all their rights are in fact expressly assigned by the session musicians, including copyright in any riffs etc they make up.

I’m not an IP lawyer or even music copyright lawyer (yet), but I’d certainly thought things through enough that when I made a recording of my own music a few years ago I got an assignment signed by the session musicians I’d used (who’d been paid a fee for their services).

I’ve just skimmed the judgment, I’ve not read the case thoroughly yet; I may update this blog post once I do.


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