A dispute over the ownership of copyright in Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” has been ruled upon by the House of Lords (HoL).
In 2006, the High Court decided that the appellant (A), Matthew Fisher who was the group’s organist was entitled to 40% of the copyright in the track. However, this decision was subsequently overturned by the Court of Appeal (CoA), because A had taken 30 years to bring his claim. The CoA ruled that the copyright was owned by the group’s frontman, Gary Brooker and lyricist, Keith Reed.
Crucially, the HoL decided that the passage of time is not enough to undermine claims such as A’s especially as the delay had not caused harm to other writers. If anything, the HoL found that A’s long delay in asserting his rights had been of considerable financial benefit to the respondents, effectively outweighing any potential disadvantage to them.
The HoL ruled that A was partially responsible for writing the keyboard melody featuring in the song and as such is entitled to share in its future royalties.
This case emphasises the willingness of the Courts to acknowledge and uphold the rights of copyright owners. Even where a third party has been benefiting from copyright material for some time, there is still the risk that the copyright owner may choose to assert their rights, and on the basis of this case, they may well be successful.