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Copyright law update; House of Lords and a Whiter Shade of Pale

Written by Michael Coyle on 14 August 2009

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The well known and distinctive eight bar organ solo which is the intro of the famous ditty finally reached the House of Lords this month and reversed the Court of Appeal's previous decision and will not amuse publishers or recording companies.

Background

The first decision in the High Court found in favour of the Claimant and the court found that the Claimant was the co-author of the work, a joint owner of the musical copyright and the defendants' licence to exploit the work was revoked on 31 May 2005. Incidentally the Claimant brought the action 38 years after the initial release of the record!

On appeal the decision was reversed. It allowed the appeal in part, deciding that the delay was inexcusable and it would be unfair and unjust if the licence to revoke and joint interest would be allowed to stand.

The Claimant now appealed to the House of Lords which overturned the Appeal's court Judgement. The House reversed the decision and reverted to the High Court's first decision. While the delay is extraordinary ( the claimant has no excuse or reaosnable explanation) but such a delay in itself is no bar. Unlike contractual matters ( for example) there is no statutory limitation period that applies in English law to claims to copyright see the Duration of Copyright and Rights in Performances Regulations 1995 (SI 1995/329).

The last word on this can go to Baroness Hale of Richmond who had little problem in finding in favour of the orignal claimant "I agree that, for the reasons given by my noble and learned friend, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, supplemented by those of Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, this appeal should be allowed and the declarations made by the trial judge restored. As one of those people who do remember the sixties, I am glad that the author of that memorable organ part has at last achieved the recognition he deserves."

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