The former keyboard player from rock band Procol Harum today (Dec. 20) won a share of future earnings from seminal 1967 hit “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which has sold around 10 million copies worldwide.
In a written ruling at London’s High Court, Judge William Blackburne said Matthew Fisher should get 40 percent of the copyright of the song. Fisher argued that he wrote the organ music to the song and so was entitled to joint authorship of the track alongside lead singer Gary Brooker, who is credited with its copyright.
But Brooker called the ruling “A Darker Shade of Black” that could have serious repercussions for the music industry, and his lawyers said he planned to appeal.
“The repercussions of this decision are so far-reaching that any musician who has ever played on any recording in the last 40 years may now have a potential claim of joint authorship,” Brooker’s lawyers said in a statement. “It is effectively open season on the songwriter … This creates a ticking time bomb ready to explode whenever the musician chooses and when, possibly, material witnesses have passed away.”
While Fisher won the lawsuit, the award fell short of the 50 percent he wanted and the judge dismissed his claim to past royalties from the haunting ballad.
After legal argument following the ruling, the judge said Brooker’s side would have to cover 90 percent of Fisher’s legal costs, but payment would not be immediate pending the appeal. Total legal costs in the case are estimated at up to $1.5 million.
Fisher sued Brooker and Onward Music Ltd, and during the trial last month the High Court reverberated to “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” whose accompaniment is based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s works including “Air on a G String.”
“I find that the organ solo is a distinctive and significant contribution to the overall composition and, quite obviously, the product of skill and labor on the part of the person who created it,” Judge Blackburne said.
In rejecting Fisher’s claim to past royalties, he said Fisher had “sat back” for nearly 40 years before coming to court and so surrendered those rights.
Brooker said his faith in British justice was “shattered. If Matthew Fisher’s name ends up on my song then mine can come off! I have to respect and acknowledge the people I write songs with. After all this time this case should never have got to court — Johann Sebastian Bach deserves the credit for his inspiration to all musicians.”
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