Monday, 7 April 2008

An even whiter shade of pale

When Blackburne J not only held that Matthew Fisher was joint composer of A Whiter Shade of Pale, but that notwithstanding the organist's 38-year delay in bringing a claim he was entitled to 40 per cent of the royalties in the future, many people found it hard to understand. Was his claim not statute-barred? (No, it wasn't.) Was his contribution really something that copyright should protect? (Yes, it was, and can you imagine the song without the organ part?)

The Court of Appeal, which has taken several months to hand down its judgment, has now reversed the judgment of the lower court - though crucially it did not interfere with the key joint authorship point, which follows a long series of earlier cases. However, on the basis (inter alia) that the implied licence generally accepted to have been granted by Mr Fisher back in 1967 had become irrevocable, he would not be entitled to royalties.

That seems to me a satisfactory result. The law about authorship and ownership stands, as it should: musicians who make an important contribution to another's composition will receive recognition, but there is no reason to fear an opening of the floodgates - claims will be limited to contributions that really make a difference to the finished product. But they will have to be brought promptly, and other musicians involved will be saved the uncertainty inflicted on Gary Brooker and other interested parties by Mr Fisher's extraordinary action.

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