Publisher loses Cuban copyright case
The Associated Press November 16, 2006, 3:16PM EST
An American music publisher on Thursday lost its legal bid to win
copyright over 13 traditional Cuban “son” recordings that it claimed had
been stolen by the island’s communist authorities.
A judge at the High Court in London rejected the claim by U.S. publisher
Peer International Corp. against Cuban state-owned publisher Editora
Musical de Cuba.
The U.S. company had claimed that its entire catalog of around 600
titles had been unlawfully taken over by the Cuban government after
Fidel Castro came to power in the 1959 revolution.
Lawyers for the Cuban company and Termidor Music Publishers — a
British-German firm that licensed the rights to the songs — claimed
that the songs’ composers, signed up by Peer in the 1930s, 40s and 50s,
had received almost nothing for their work.
“The composers in this case received nothing or, at most, a few pesos
and maybe a drink of rum,” lawyer Peter Prescott told the court earlier
in the hearing.
Peer International said it had paid royalties to the composers until the
revolution, when the U.S. trade embargo stopped all payments to Cuba.
During the long and complex case, judge John Lindsay traveled to Havana
to obtain witness testimony from elderly musicians.
In his ruling, Lindsay called much of the Cuban company’s criticism of
Peer “exaggerated or unfounded.”
The judge said Peer had tried to re-establish contact with the
composers’ heirs in the late 1990s, possibly as a result of the success
of the “Buena Vista Social Club” album and film, which led to renewed
interest in Cuban music around the world.
The judge said that while Peer might be able to claim copyright in some
cases, he believed the company wanted a ruling that it could use as a
test case for its entire Cuban catalog.
Lindsay said he could not grant the sweeping ruling of ownership the
company sought, and dismissed the claim.