'A Whiter Shade of Pale' Organist Gets Royalties
Posted: July 30, 2009
LONDON (AP) -- He didn't skip the light fandango, but Procol Harum's former keyboardist said he was delighted Thursday after Britain's top court ruled he was entitled to a share of royalties from the band's hit "A Whiter Shade of Pale."
Judges in the House of Lords said Matthew Fisher, who played the track's distinctive Hammond organ intro, should get a portion of future royalties from the song.
"As one of those people who do remember the '60s, I am glad that the author of that memorable organ part has at last achieved the recognition he deserves," said Baroness Hale, one of five judges hearing the case.
The song, renowned for its mystifying lyrics -- beginning "We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor" -- was one of the signature hits of 1967's Summer of Love. It topped the British singles chart for five weeks and was a top 10 hit in the United States.
Fisher, 62, now a computer programmer, left the British band in 1969, but 35 years later began a legal battle for a share in the song's copyright.
Procol Harum singer Gary Brooker argued that it was his idea to use the Bach-inspired theme that Fisher played on the track. Brooker, who still tours with the band, said he and lyricist Keith Reid wrote the song before Fisher joined in March 1967.
In December 2006, a High Court judge ruled that Fisher had co-written the song and should receive 40 percent of the song's royalties. Last year the Court of Appeal agreed Fisher was the song's co-author, but said he should receive no money from past or future royalties because he waited too long to make his claim.
The Law Lords reinstated the High Court decision, saying there was no time limit on copyright claims in English law.
"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," said one of the judges, Lord Hope.
The judges said, however, that Fisher could only claim future, not past, royalties.
Fisher said he was delighted by the victory, which was "never about money."
"There will not be a lot of that anyway," he said. "But this was about making sure everyone knew about my part in the authorship.
"A win without money was never going to be recognized as a win at all."
Lawyer Lawrence Abramson, who represented Brooker, said the case could open the floodgates to claims by other musicians who played on long-ago hit records.
"The ruling will encourage a lot of other claims, but it will not mean that they will all succeed," he said. "They will have to be determined on the facts, but everyone in the same position as Mr. Fisher will have a go."
Thursday's ruling is one of the final decisions by the Law Lords, judges who sit in the House of Lords and form Britain's highest court of appeal. A new Supreme Court starts work Oct. 1 after the summer judicial recess