Procul Harum Case

The Law Lords were taken back to the halcyon days of their youth recently in passing judgment in the copyright dispute over authorship of the organ solo in Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

In one of the last decisions of the House of Lords before it goes into recess and being replaced by the Supreme court of the UK in October, the Law Lords voted unanimously in favour of Matthew Fisher, the band’s organist that he contributed to the famous, if somewhat lugubrious, organ solo. The ruling now means that Mr Fisher will share in future royalties from the song. According to the Financial Times (31/07/09), the song is one of the most successful songs in British pop history, having sold 6 million copies. However, according to the BBC News website (30/07/09), Mr Fisher claimed that the case was never about money, rather more one of recognition of his input and authorship of the recording.

It is clear from the ruling that the courts will seek to protect composers of musical work, and that the passage of time may not be a barrier to asserting intellectual property rights in a work. On that basis the ruling may open the way for other artistes, who feel that their contribution has been overlooked, to make claims for older works, a move that might not be so welcome by the recording industry.

However, although not expressly addressed in the judgment, it was common ground in the pleadings that the right for damages as a result of copyright infringement expires after six years in England (possibly shorter in Scotland).  To put it another way, Mr Fisher could only claim for back royalties for the period starting six years before he raised proceedings.

What was also revealing about the case was that Baroness Hale commented that she was one of those who remembered the 60’s. Surely the Law Lords must have found some time to enjoy themselves in those care free days…? 

Douglas (although to be honest it was mostly written by my Trainee Martin English)

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