Copyright Subsists in an ‘Edition’ Version of a Work Even Where No Significant Changes are Made to the Melody

August 2004

Record Labels, Music Publishers

Hyperion Records plans to appeal against a High Court ruling that the company must pay copyright fees for use of a 300-year-old piece of music in one of its recordings. The decision could have serious repercussions throughout the world of classical music. The suit against Hyperion was brought by Dr Lionel Sawkins, a musicologist who spent a year preparing an edition of pieces by Michel-Richard de Lalande (1657-1726), court composer to Louis XIV and Louis XV. Sawkins claimed that, since his work had been used by Hyperion to make its CD “Music for the Sun King”, he was entitled to royalties on the recording. Hyperion pointed out that Dr Sawkins had received a hire fee for us for the use of his editions so was being paid. Under the Copyright Designs & Patents Act 1988 (as amended) copyright normally expires 70 years after the composer’s death, but Patten J ruled that Sawkins’s work had been significant enough for him to claim royalties: “I am not persuaded,” said Mr Justice Patten, “that one can reject a claim to copyright in a new music work simply because the editorial composer has made no significant changes to the notes.” Hyperion was granted the right to appeal but ordered to pay legal costs, which have been estimated at four hundred thousand pounds. Hyperion have deleted the CD in question which sold 3332 copies and with substantial recording costs unrecouped.
COMMENT : This is a difficult area and this decision leaves the classical music industry in something of a quandry with the possibility that it will have to pay out substantial royalties to scholars and musical experts who have produced ‘editions’ of music no longer in copyright – so called ‘editorial composers’. It seems fair that scholars and experts who spend substantial periods of time researching, studying and ‘re-writing’ pieces of work which are out of copyright receive something for their efforts – but it is hard to see how they can become the author of an ‘original work’ when that work is substantially based on a work already in the public domain. That said, it has been accepted for years that arrangers can be the ‘author’ of traditional pieces of music – although in their version only. However, if a doctrine of copyright authorship where there is ‘no significant change’ to the original work was taken further the question would arise “would a re-writer of a classic Lennon & McCartney hit be entitled to claim ownership of a new copyright?”
See :,3858,4965998-110427,00.html;§ion=7

Music Week July 17th 2004 at p5

‘Landmark Copyright Case’ at p92 in the Music Journal, August 2004 edition (Incorporated Society of Musicians)

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