Buena Vista dispute reaches High Court

June 2005

Music Publishing, Artists

The copyright dispute over ownership of Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club’s music has reached the High Court in the UK. The dispute concerns who actually owns the rights to the songs, some of which relate to songs written in the 1930s and how and if writers and composers have been paid. Peer International Corporation claims that the Cuban government unlawfully took control of its copyrights (some of which date back to the 1930s) via its company Editora Musical de Cuba (EMC). These rights in turn were passed to Termidor Music Publishing which has sought to register the songs in the UK. EMC counters saying that it is trying to “salvage” royalties for the writers who were either paid nothing or “a few pesos and maybe a drink of rum” and that the original contracts with the writers were void as they “unconscionable bargains”. Peer has stated that it did pay royalties until 1959, but, after the revolution, US trade embargoes stopped payments to composers based in Cuba. Payments were made to writers situated outside of Cuba whereas payments to those in Cuba were placed in bank accounts. This changed somewhat in 1994 when the US relaxed the embargoes. EMC counters this by saying that even when the embargo was relaxed Peer obtained a licence to distribute pre-1988 royalties at ‘no more than $300 (now ) per person over time’. EMC allege that Peer’s contracts were constructed to allow the publisher to get away with paying writers and composers just a few pesos and ‘maybe a drink of rum’.

See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1481035,00.html and The Times 11 May 2005

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