Thursday, December 21, 2006

Skip the Light Fandango

The original keyboardist with 60's rock band Procol Harum has won his joint authorship lawsuit against his former bandmates over the hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale." The New York Times story is here (second item). A London court awarded him 40 percent of the song’s copyright -- going forward (the court dismissed his claims for past royalties because he had “sat back” for 40 years before asserting his rights).

Professor Patry has a great post up on the decision. Among other things, he runs through the differences between U.S. and U.K. law when it comes to joint authorship, including the following:
  • The concept of a "40% author" doesn't apply in the U.S. "In the U.S., joint authors own an undivided interest in the whole according to the number of co-authors: two own 50%, three 33 1/3%, etc. This is without regard to the respective qualitative or quantitative contributions: with two co-authors each own a 50% interest even if one contributed only 10% to the work." (He adds that "because of this, one would think that the threshold for being a joint author would be high [under U.S. law], but it really isn’t, aside from having to contribute expression and having an intent to be a joint author.")
  • "Another difference between the two countries’ laws ... is that in the U.K., joint authors cannot license a work without the others’ permission, whereas in the U.S., joint authors can unilaterally license the work on a non-exclusive basis."
  • "But the biggest difference is that in the U.S., [the] case would have been dismissed at the outset on statute of limitations grounds; the song was, after all, written and performed and credit taken in 1967."