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The C-Files

img  Tobias

Music should be a simple thing: Compose it, play it, finish. Unfortunately, as anyone trying to set up a record company can tell you, thanks to big business, artists being ripped off and legal wrangles, the world has strayed hopelessly from this vision. Now, a recent verdict by a UK court has complicated things even further and led to one of the world's most beloved labels basically going bancrupt.

Hyperion records, home to an astonishing catalogue of rare recordings, had released a recording of music by French composer Lalande. The score the musicians used had been edited by Dr. Lionel Sawkins. Now, Hyperion had payed the usual fee for the use of the score but there had been no royalties to Sawkins for the use of this particular edition - after all, what for? He had mereley presented the music as faithfully to the composers intent as possible. Sawkins saw things differently, however and sued the label. In his eyes, his edition represented an original work by itself, protected by copyright. He lost in the first instance, but went on to win the following three lawsuits. Hyperion will now have to pay the legal costs, which amount to a rumoured million pounds.

A few things are noteworthy here. First of all, Simon Perry, who is Hyperion's head, has been praised for his excellent and dedicated work and is now being made into a martyr by the media. Part of that is true and it can be argued that he did indeed go to court because of his love for music. However, quite clearly, things could have gone a totally different way. Had he simply payed Sawkins some compensation or aimed for some kind of settlement, he would now be in a more comfortable position to be sure. Making the affair one of "principle" was never a good idea and he has thereby endagered his legacy,  1.000 briliant albums and his own future. He could have accepted defeat in this round and come back with a new case himself, which could have been on a more general basis.
Secondly, Sakwins is not the monster some comentators are making out of him. Actually, the case he made was highly interesting and needed clarification. He was also hardly after big bucks and the biggest money involved will anyway not go into his, but his lawyers pockets.
Thirdly, copyright clearly extends further than anyone seriously could have expected (and this puts Perry's persistence into perspective). If an edition of already composed music can be considered an "original work", this will make recordings even more costly (unless the musicians prepare their own edition). It may also mean that every single recording of a piece can be considered an "original work" by itself and therey subject to copyright. The consequences of this can not yet be predicted but may be far-reaching.

It seems to us that even if the courts have ruled faithfully and "objectively", they have not done arts, the artists and the public a favour. As copyright was meant to serve all these groups, something can surely not be right.

Homepage: Hyperion Records
Source: Hyperion copyright case at M station
Source: Hyperion copyright case at "sounds and fury"
Source: Hyperion copyright case at scena.org

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