Copyright: Minder Records and Another v Sharples

Jane Lambert

S.10 (1) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 defines a work of joint authorship as "a work produced by the collaboration of two or more authors in which the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other author or authors." However, it was held by Hazel Williamson QC sitting as a judge of the High Court in Bamgboye v Reed [2002] EWHC 2922 (QB), [2002] EWHC 2922, [2004] EMLR 5 and implied by the Court of Appeal in Brooker and Another v Fischer [2008] Bus LR 1123, [2008] FSR 26, [2008] EWCA Civ 287, [2008] EMLR 13 that joint ownership is not necessarily the same as equal ownership. Where two or more collaborators claim to have contributed to a copyright work the task of the judge is to discern the nature and extent of each party's contribution in order to determine his or her share of the copyright.

This issue came before Miss Recorder Michaels in Minder Music Ltd and Another v Sharples [2015] EWHC 1454 (IPEC). The claimants, Minder Music and the song writer Julia Adamson, owned the copyrights in a song called Touch Sensitive that had been played on the radio in 1998. After the broadcast the song writer and composer enlisted the services of Steve Sharples, the defendant, to include it in an album. He claimed to have contributed substantially to both the words and music which resulted in a long running dispute over royalties. The issue came to a head when the claimants applied for:
    "a. a declaration that Minder Music owns a 33.34% of the copyright in the Album Version and that Ms Adamson owns 66.66% (or such share as the Court shall determine);
    b. a declaration that no part of the copyright is or was owned by Mr Sharples; and
    c. an inquiry as to damages."
Mr Sharples did not counterclaim for any relief but denied that the claimants were entitled to their declarations and damages on the grounds that he had contributed to the album and that the claimants had agreed that he should have a share of the copyright.

The agreement on which Mr Sharples relied was one that the parties had entered in 2013 for the resolution of a dispute as to the division of royalties held by the PRS whereby each of the parties was to receive a third share. Ms Adamson argued that it was unconscionable on a number of grounds none of which was accepted by the recorder. Even though the agreement was unduly favourable to Mr Sharples her ladyship saw no grounds for setting it aside.

The judge then considered the defendant's alternative grounds. In assessing his contribution she compared the words and music as they had been when the sing was played on the radio and as they had been after Mr Sharples's involvement. In her view there was very little difference in the words and the evidence suggested that they had been contributed by the original song writer. However, he had added a string section to the music that would have contributed perhaps 20% to the value of the album.

Because Miss Recorder Michaels found that there had been a valid agreement between the parties as to entitlement to royalties and that Mr Sharples had contributed to the composition of the music for the album she declined to make the declarations sought by the claimants. She invited counsels' submissions on the relief (if any) that she could make in the light of her findings.

Two important lessons arise from this decision. The first is the crucial importance in getting agreement at the earliest possible stage on who should own the copyright in any new copyright works that might result from a collaboration such as the one between the original song writer and composer and Mr Sharples. The second is that not every contribution to the creation of a copyright work justifies a share in the copyright in the work. It has to be the right kind of contribution. In other words the contribution has to add value to the work.

Should anyone wish to discuss this case or copyright in general, he or she should contact me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or use my contact form.


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