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A touch sensitive issue: The Fall, their album producer and a copyright dispute

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15/06/2015

The Manchester rock band, The Fall, are the latest band to come before the courts for settlement of a dispute concerning ownership of copyright in one of their songs. We have written previously about disputes concerning artists as varied as Led Zeppelin and Jay-Z.

The song in question was “Touch sensitive”, first performed in 1998. The music was written by a band member, Julie Adamson, and the lyrics were written by the singer, Mark Smith. Mr Smith later assigned his rights in the song to the claimant, Minder Music. In 1999, Mr Smith and Ms Adamson agreed that rights in the song should be split one-third to Mr Smith and two-thirds to Ms Adamson.

The defendant in the proceedings, Steven Sharples, was engaged to produce the album version of the record. In doing so he made some changes to it. A dispute arose as to ownership and a settlement agreement was entered into between Ms Adamson and Mr Sharples, so that Ms Adamson, Mr Smith and Mr Sharples would each receive a one-third share of the royalties. Minder Music later objected, insisting that the original percentage split should remain as it was and it therefore issued proceedings seeking a declaration that it owned one-third and Ms Adamson two-thirds and that none of the copyright was owned by Mr Sharples.

The High Court considered [1] that there was no reason to set aside the settlement agreement. Whilst a one-third share for Mr Sharples was optimistic given the scale of his contribution, Ms Adamson had agreed to it voluntarily and there was no suggestion of fraud or undue influence.

In reaching its decision, the Court rejected the suggestion that Mr Sharples was a co-author of the music. The majority of the changes he made were only such as would be expected from a record producer. The introduction of a string section was a more significant contribution, which would properly have been reflected by a 20 per cent share in the copyright.

The case is useful in showing the point at which contributions by a music producer become sufficiently significant to afford the producer a share of the copyright ownership. The case also highlights the importance of documenting the share of copyright ownership in a record.

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[1] Minder Music Ltd & Another v Sharples [2015] EWHC 1454 (IPEC)

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