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18.7.04

Ionarts in Manchester: The Editor Has Rights

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Michel-Richard de Lalande, Te deum, Venite exultemus, Panis angelicus, and La Grande Pièce Royale (Ex Cathedra Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore)
This is an issue that perhaps only the musicological world cares about (also covered by John Wall at newolde.com), but there was a thread of messages on the e-mail list of the American Musicological Society last week about, of all things, a legal settlement. Baroque music historian Lionel Sawkins has won a settlement against Hyperion Records (here is the court document from July 1), which released a recording of music by Michel-Richard de Lalande (Music for the Sun-King, shown at right), from October 2001. Lionel is the leading scholar on Lalande's music and naturally was involved in planning a festival of Lalande's music at Versailles (hosted by the Centre de Musique Baroque in 2001), and he claims that he had discussed making a recording with Jeffrey Skidmore as far back as 1999. The group was going to use new editions of these four works, which Lionel is preparing for the complete works edition of Lalande's music. Lionel sent advance versions of the scores to Jeffrey Skidmore in August 2001.

So far, the story is little different from that of any other recording involving early music, which usually involves musicologists rescuing works from historical oblivion. However, what then happened was that Lionel tried to get Hyperion to sign an agreement crediting him as the editor of the scores and agreeing to pay him royalties. The company refused to sign it, in spite of the attempt by Mr. Skidmore to mediate the dispute, but went ahead and made the recording. In its defense, Hyperion maintains a long-held policy that it does not pay copyright royalties "in respect of musical works which are deemed to be out of copyright by virtue of their age." Lionel Sawkins, they claim, is not the composer of the music.

The nature of the lawsuit required the judge to get into some detail regarding the business of what musicologists do. With the help of an advising expert, the judge who wrote the lengthy judgment goes into a sometimes measure-by-measure analysis of the recording and what they must have taken from Lionel's edition, which required some reconstruction of certain parts. For three of the four pieces, the judge sided with Lionel and believes that Hyperion has infringed on his copyright as an editor. There has not been a judgment yet to determine the damages to be awarded, but reports vary between at least £500,000 and over £1 million.

Lionel showed up at the Baroque conference here in Manchester and was given a half-hour yesterday at 2:00 (here is the abstract), to talk about the settlement and what he thinks it means. He may have expected a conference of musicologists to be ecstatic at the thought of a record company being forced to pay editors for original editions, but there was a lot of trepidation expressed in the discussion time about what this will mean for the future of early music recording. At a time when the audience for this sort of recording is already declining, what effect will such a large settlement have? I don't have any answer, but I can see both sides of the issue. The best possible outcome would have been for Hyperion to sign the royalty agreement (which would have meant paying Lionel a couple thousand pounds by most estimates) or just not to make the recording. As that is not what happened, we have an ugly situation, but I imagine that the issue of what edition early music performers are using is going to be much more important for record companies from now on.

Newspaper articles on this story:

Terry Grimley, Hyperion Records Loses Legal Battle with Musicologist Over Copyright for 300-Year-Old Works, Birmingham Post, July 13

Leo Benedictus, Copyright ruling was 'wrong', The Guardian, July 8

Martin Cullingford, Copyright royalties are due on editions of 18th century music, rules judge, Gramophone, July 8

Dalya Alberge and Lewis Smith, Record firms face multimillion-pound bill as music experts settle an old score, The Times (London), July 6

Jan Colley, Music Expert Wins CD Copyright Court Battle, The Scotsman, July 1

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