Procol Harum

the Pale

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Song copyright row hits top court

Press Association • 22 April 2009

Pop classic A Whiter Shade of Pale is set to entertain the highest court in the land.

Lawyers involved in the case say it is the first time that the Law Lords, who sit at the House of Lords, have been asked to decide on a copyright dispute involving a rock song.

Procol Harum's massive worldwide hit of 1967 became the subject of a long-running legal dispute when Matthew Fisher, the former organist with the group, claimed he was entitled to a share of royalties from the song, named the most played tune in British public places over the past 70 years.

He has now asked the Law Lords to make a final decision after the Court of Appeal overturned a High Court ruling that he was entitled to 40% of the royalties.

The two-day hearing will also set wide-ranging guidelines for how long a person can wait before bringing any case to court. Mr Fisher waited 38 years.

The copyright to the song is currently owned by Procol Harum frontman Gary Brooker, who wrote the music, and lyricist Keith Reid.

Fisher claims that he wrote the haunting organ melody closely identified with the song, eight bars based on Bach's Air on a G String and Sleepers Awake, and is entitled to a share of copyright and royalties.

He began legal proceedings in the High Court three years ago but eventually lost because he had waited 38 years to bring his case.

Brooker says that he wrote the song exclusively, composing on the piano the famous eight bars at the centre of the dispute. He said the contributions from Fisher were only to its arrangement for recording.

Lawrence Abramson, partner at solicitors Harbottle and Lewis, who represent Brooker, said that if the Law Lords overturned the Court of Appeal ruling, the implications for the music industry would be severe. He said it would open up the prospect of countless claims from musicians who felt their contribution to a song had been overlooked in some way, regardless of past contracts.


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