Post Meltwater musings

January 2011

All areas

The ramifications of Mrs Justice Proudman’s decision in the Meltwater continue to niggle away in my mind and I noticed that the London Metro’s headline yesterday (pub: Associated Newspapers) was “Anarchy in the UK”, the title of the infamous sound recording and song, written by Messrs Paul Cook, Steve Jones, John Lydon and Glen Matlock in 1976 which formed the A side of the Sex Pistol’s debut vinyl release in the UK. Now IF copyright can subsist in a headline and a headline can be an independent literary work ……. and Meltwater tells us it can, then what if that headline itself is copied – here from a song title? Surely the logical conclusion is that the owners of the ‘title’ of song should have the right to protect their work in turn, independently of the lyrics of that the song …… if it is worth copying, isn’t it worth protecting?

I also noticed the news that 60 artists including Mr Hudson, Guillemots, UNKLE, The Big Pink, The Kooks, Enter Shikari, Coldcut, Orbital, Heaven 17, Jon McClure, Suggs, Gallows and Pendulum have recorded two versions if John Cage’s famous ‘silent’ composition, ‘4’33″‘, as part of the Cage Against The Machine project. Billy Bragg and Imogen Heap even phoned in their contributions from mobiles! The news reminded me of a bizarre copyright story from 2002 involving the same work. The composition  4′ 33″, is credited  to  avant garde musician and songwriter John Cage (1912-1992) and described thus “For tacet (any instrument or combination of instruments). 4’33’. 20th Century. Performance notes. Composed 1952. 2 pages. Duration 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Published by Edition Peters (PE.P06777). ISBN M-3007-4483-4. With performance notes. 20th Century ……  silent piece for any combination of instruments”. You can purchase the sheet music for the princely sum of $5.95 here

In July 2002 British composer and recording artist Mike Batt (of ‘The Wombles’ fame)  found himself the subject of a threat of copyright infringement action for including the recording “A One Minute Silence,” on an album by his classical rock band The Planets. He was accused of copying the song from the work by Cage. Remarkably  Batt settled the matter out of court with the BBC reporting that Batt paid an undisclosed six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust telling  the Press Association: “This has been, albeit a gentlemanly dispute, a most serious matter and I am pleased that Cage’s publishers have finally been persuaded that their case was, to say the least, optimistic” adding “We are, however, making this gesture of a payment to the John Cage Trust in recognition of my own personal respect for John Cage and in recognition of his brave and sometimes outrageous approach to artistic experimentation in music.”  Batt credited “A One Minute Silence” to “Batt/Cage”. At the time lawyer Duncan Lamont told BBC Radio 4’s Front Row the question was “Is it a work?” saying “Has it been written down, is it a literary, artistic or dramatic work? The argument will be there is no work because there are no notes.” A good a starting point as any, but I wondered if 1709 Blog readers had any illuminating thoughts they might care to share on this case or on my “anarchy” musings?

Post comments to where this article first appeared.

Newspaper Licensing Agency Ltd and others v Meltwater Holding BV and other companies [2010] EWHC 3099 (Ch)

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