It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll

Grant McCall, Solicitor and Commercial Law specialist takes a look at the law relating to copyright

In previous articles I have focused on the need to protect business trading names and logos through formal registration of a trademark at the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Copyright is an unregistered right governed by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. I have chosen the music industry to illustrate the risks that may be involved when concerns of copyright arise. 

Principles of contract law are fundamental to every commercial transaction and music business agreements are no exception. Music business agreements can be as important for young aspiring musicians as they are to multinational superstars. Indeed George Michael and Andrew Ridgely wrote “Careless Whisper” at the age of 17 whilst Vanilla Ice claimed that he did not use the bass line of “Under Pressure” by Freddie Mercury and David Bowie because his version was “a note different”. 

The music industry blends together songwriters, musicians, performers, societies, managers, producers and publishers all of who will need professionally drafted legal protection. Each party to a music business agreement will have separate ownership rights and separate rights of exploitation which will need to be formally documented.

The 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act requires that a legally binding assignment of copyright must be in writing and must be signed by or on behalf of the assignor to be effective. 

Sometimes the courts will imply an assignment of copyright even when there has been no written agreement. This was the position in 2009 when the organ melody in the 1967 track “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procul Harum came to the attention of the House of Lords. The Lords held that the organ playing by classically trained Matthew Fisher was so distinctive that he was to be assigned a share of its copyright and a right to future royalties (despite some 40 years passing after the song was released!). 

So, if you are involved in the music industry whether as songwriter, performer, manager or recording company, make sure that you have the legal infrastructure in place so that you have the commercial ability to exploit your rights!

For advice on intellectual property matters (including a free first half hour consultation) e-mail or telephone 0117 9898510.

This article is provided for general information purposes only and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at the date of uploading. This article should not be relied upon as legal advice pertaining to any specific factual situation. Legal decisions should be made only after proper consultation with a legal professional of your choosing.

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