Procol Harum Co-Writer Wins Share of Royalties
Co-Writer of 1960s Hit Wins Share of Royalties
More than 40 years after the Procol Harum song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ topped the UK charts, organist Matthew Fisher has finally won a share of the royalties, following a decision of the House of Lords.
Mr Fisher, who claimed he wrote the organ introduction to the 1967 hit as well as parts of the melody, won a claim in 2006 in the High Court, which awarded him 40 per cent of the royalties from the tune from the date of bringing the action as well as recognition as co-writer. However, this decision was overturned two years later in the Court of Appeal, which ruled that Mr Fisher was entitled to credit for co-authorship of the song but had no right to royalties as he had waited nearly 40 years before making a claim. His right to royalties was always denied by the band’s leader Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid.
Mr Fisher appealed to the House of Lords, which awarded him damages plus an entitlement to a share in future royalties from the song. In his judgment, Lord Hope wrote that ‘a person who…did so much to make the song in its final form such a success, is entitled to protect the advantage that he has gained from this and to earn his reward’.
The tune has been estimated to generate six-figure annual royalties, even four decades after it spent five weeks at No 1.
The bitterness of the conflict is illustrated by the fact that Procol Harum released in 2006 a ‘40 year’ limited collectors’ edition of the song crediting only Matthew Fisher and Keith Reid and bearing the words ‘Gary Brooker the original composer of A Whiter Shade of Pale declines to share this credit until a decision is made by the Court of Appeal…’. He and Fisher will clearly not be on each other’s Christmas card lists.
This was one of seven cases on which the House of Lords issued judgments during its final sitting. In October, the UK Supreme Court will replace it as the highest court in the land.
“This decision opens the door to a number of similar claims,” says Roger Sands of Wolferstans. “Under UK law, the work of writers and composers remains under copyright until 70 years after their death. If you have failed to receive recognition for such material or you are worried you may be faced with a similar claim, we will be happy to advise you.”
The claim also highlights the need to make sure proper contractual arrangements are put in place whenever valuable intellectual property is being created, so that the financial interests and future rights of each participant are clear.