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The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court rules on music copyright dispute

Written by Ellis Sweetenham on 29 June 2015

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Facts:

The claimants wanted clarification concerning the ownership of copyright in a song recorded by the band "The Fall" and released on an album in 1999. The second claimant musician had written the song together with the band's lead singer.

They had agreed that the publishing or performing rights in the song should be split 33.34 per cent to the singer and 66.66 per cent to the musician.

The singer assigned his rights in the song to the first claimant music publishing company. When the song was recorded for an album, its music and lyrics were changed.

The defendant, who had produced the album, claimed to have carried out extensive work on the song. A dispute arose when he applied to register his interest in the album version, but the parties took no active steps to resolve the matter for many years

The musician later corresponded with the producer and they entered into a settlement agreement in September 2011, agreeing that the publishing company, the musician and the producer were each entitled to 33.33 per cent of the rights in the album version of the song.

The publishing company objected and issued proceedings against the producer, which the musician joining the claim.

Issues:

The claimants asked the courts to state that the copyright in the album version of the song was owned by the publishing company and musician in 33.34 and 66.66 per cent shares respectively, and that the producer owned no part of the copyright.

The producer stated that he was entitled to a share in the copyright of the album version on the basis of the settlement agreement and/or his joint authorship.

The claimants counter argued this by stating the settlement agreement was voidable as an unconscionable bargain because the producer had unfairly pressed a substantially disadvantageous settlement on her. They argued that the singer had written all the lyrics for the album version and that the producer had made insufficient musical changes to it to be a joint author.

Judgment:

To succeed in a claim on the grounds of an unconscionable bargain, it was not sufficient to prove that a bargain was hard, unreasonable or foolish, that its terms were objectively unreasonable, or that there was unequal bargaining power between the parties.

The bargain had to be unconscionable in the sense that one of the parties had imposed the objectionable terms in a morally reprehensible manner, and it was necessary for the party seeking relief to establish such conduct.

 At the time the settlement agreement was reached, the producer had been unaware of the full extent of the musician's financial difficulties and so could not have taken advantage of her problems. He had not imposed objectionable terms on her in a morally reprehensible manner and there was no unconscionable conduct on his part.

There were no grounds for setting aside the settlement agreement

However, had the settlement agreement not had effect, the courts considered the defendants input as a co-author of the album and concluded his contribution as co-author would have been properly reflected by a 20 per cent share of the copyright in the music of the album version.

If you'd like to know more about this article please send an email to Ellis Sweetenham quoting the article title and any questions you might have, alternatively call the office number on 02380 235 979 or send an enquiry through our contact form.

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