The High Court has ruled that the singer of Mungo Jerry had misrepresented to a music publisher that he owned copyrights in the song Alright, Alright, Alright. In reliance on the misrepresentation, the publisher had taken a purported assignment of a share of the copyrights and then licensed what it thought to be its share to Sony/ATV.
Eventually the publisher had to pay £33,600 to the true copyright owner to settle an infringement claim. The High Court ordered the singer to pay that amount to the publisher as damages for misrepresentation. But the High Court rejected the publisher’s claim for lost royalties that it would have earned from exploitation of the song, had the assignment been valid: had there been no misrepresentation, there would have been no purported assignment of the publisher’s 25% share to Sony/ATV and it would have received no royalties.
This case turned on a specific and complex set of facts, but it does provide some insight into the intricacies of authorship and ownership of songs, and how both can be a trap for the unwary.
At first glance it might seem that due diligence would have flagged up the historic third-party assignment. But every subsequent agreement involving copyright in the song relied on the singer’s disregard for this initial assignment.
For a writer, there is a harsh lesson to be learned in what not to say to the media. In a candid interview with Nicky Horne on the BBC in 1973, RD said of Alright: “It’s a French song. A guy called Jacques Dutronc recorded it … it’s called Et Moi, Et Moi, Et Moi.” He followed this with an essential statement used against him at trial some 44 years later: “I heard it at a party … someone had written some lyrics to it, and so I just changed the arrangement and things around a bit, and we decided on this one.”
It all goes to show that life of copyright in a song is a long time, and long enough for an inconvenient truth to come to light. The challenge for an acquirer or licensee of a song is to uncover that – or at least to build in the right contractual protections against this sort of latent defect in the chain of title.
To read the full article, click here. Written for Entertainment Law Review.
 Editions Musicales Alpha SARL v Universal Music Publishing Limited  EWHC 1058 (IPEC), 10 May 2017.