A Legal Shade Of Gray Area

If the House Of Lords overturns the Court Of Appeal ruling over the writing of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” it will open up the prospect of countless claims from musicians who feel their contribution to a song had been overlooked in some way, according to Lawrence Abramson of lawyers Harbottle & Lewis.

Abramson, who represents Procol Harum frontman Gary Brooker, told the Guardian that overturning the decision would create severe implications for the music industry.

It is believed to be the first time the House Of Lords has been asked to rule on the copyright of a rock tune. Five law lords began hearing the case April 23 and are expected to give a judgment later in the year.

The disagreement began making headlines in December 2006, when the High Court awarded a 40 percent share of the musical royalties to former Procol Harum organist Matthew Fisher. Fisher claims to have written every note he played on the track including the opening eight-bar solo.

Brooker, who claims to have written the song with lyricist Keith Reid, was unhappy with the verdict and appealed it.

Fisher claimed his contribution entitled him to an equal share of the royalties.

Last year, the Court Of Appeal decided by a majority verdict that, although Fisher is a co-writer, he isn’t entitled to royalties.

In setting out the verdict, Lord Justice Mummery said that Fisher, now a computer programmer from south London, was “guilty of excessive and inexcusable delay in asserting his claim.”

Fisher claimed he delayed because he was always told he had no chance of winning, but legal opinion changed in 2002 when fiddle player Bobby Valentino won a landmark judgment in a similar case against Scottish pop band The Bluebells over the opening bars of “Young At Heart.”

Brooker, who owns the copyright to the song with Reid, is the only remaining member of the band’s original lineup. Procol Harum is still touring and will play concerts in Scandinavia and Italy this summer.