Procol Harum organist wins fight to right over Whiter tune
Law lords award share of royalties
Its melancholy melody made it one of the most distinctive pop songs of the “summer of love” – but a copyright dispute over Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” has divided the band’s members ever since.
The row was settled yesterday when the best-selling group’s organist was awarded a share of the royalties from the 1967 chart-topping hit.
Matthew Fisher was partly responsible for writing the song’s famous keyboard melody, the House of Lords ruled. He will share in future royalties from the song.
The law lords unanimously granted Mr Fisher’s appeal against a decision by the Court of Appeal, which had granted full copyright to the song’s original writers, Gary Brooker and Keith Reid.
They accepted that Mr Fisher had made a contribution to one of the most successful songs in British pop history, which has sold more than 6m copies and been covered in 770 versions.
Lord Hope of Craighead said: “A person who has a good idea, as Mr Fisher did when he composed the well-known organ solo that 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.”
Michael Shepherd, Mr Fisher’s solicitor, described the ruling as a “just” result. “Matthew is delighted that at long last he has finally obtained the recognition he deserves and that he, not others, will benefit from his significant and memorable contribution.”
The copyright dispute hit the headlines during the original hearing in 2006 when Mr Justice Blackburne delivered his High Court ruling in favour of Mr Fisher after installing an organ in his private quarters to help investigate the song’s structure.
Mr Fisher claimed he had based the melody on Bach’s “Sleepers, Awake” cantata, and The Teddy Bears’ hit “To Know Him is to Love Him”.
However, Mr Brooker claimed he had been inspired to write the organ section after hearing Bach’s “Air on the G String” used for a Hamlet cigar advertisement.
The Court of Appeal reversed the High Court ruling last year because Mr Fisher had waited almost 40 years to bring forward his claim.
Yet the law lords ruled that “the passage of time cannot of itself undermine claims such as those raised by Mr Fisher”.
Hugo Cuddigan, Mr Fisher’s barrister, said that yesterday’s result “should reassure composers that their rights will be acknowledged and upheld by our courts”.
The ruling is one of the last to be delivered by the House of Lords. The court has gone into recess, and when it returns in October it will be replaced by the Supreme Court of the UK.
“Financial Times” September 2009