Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams and others to the Editor of The Times

Letter No.: 
16 October, 1956

Performing Right Society, Ltd.,
Copyright House,
33, Margaret Stret,

It is because the Copyright Bill, which returns to Parliament on October 23 after the committee stage, will affect the livelihood of composers and authors for perhaps the next 50 years that we venture to draw attention to four matters regarding which we believe that the Bill does a grave injustice to us and to our fellow composers and authors.  These are:
(1)  Clause 8, recording companies' licence of right.  Under this Clause, the author loses all control over the recording of his work, by no matter how many record manufacturers, once he has authorized a first recording.  No other use of copyright works is given the sweeping rights that Clause 8 gives to manufacturers of records, tapes, or other devices for reproducting music mechanically or electrically.
It is not enough to say that copyright owners can sue for infringement those who fail to buy royalty stamps for every record sold.  Infringement actions are slow, costly, and difficult, for they can only be undertaken when unstamped records are sold; but sales are virtually untraceable when, as often happens, they are made through the post.  If manufacturers had no licence of right, the copyright owner could seize unlawfully made records while they were in the factory or warehouse.  This is the practical aspect of the matter.
If it is said that this Clause obviates a possible monopoly, the reply is that all authors of musical works are anxious to have them properly recorded, and as often as possible, for the royalties on records constitute a considerable part of their income.  They claim the right, as book authors and dramatists have, to prevent maltreatment of their work and to refuse to do business with commercially unsound concerns.  Some of us object strongly to the principle of a statutory royalty as prescribed in subsections 1(d) and 2 of this clause, and all of us object to the cumbersome and costly procedure laid down in the Bill for revising the rate of royalty.
It is therefore urged that, notwithstanding the permissive provisions of Article 13(2) of the Brussels Conventions, the licence of right provision be deleted from Clause 8 and the procedure for revising the statutory royalty simplified.
(2)  Clause 6(7), records made for broadcasting.  Subsection 7 of Clause 6 is something entirely new to the copyright law, and it is, we submit, entirely foregin to the principles of copyright.  It is a fundamental principle (confirmed by Clause 2(5) (a) of this Bill) tuat the author shall have the sole right to control the copying or other reproduction of his work in any material form.  So far as broadcasting is concerned, however, Clause 6(7) virtually robs the author of his right to control the copying of his works on records and deprives him of his income therefrom.  Under this subsection, the B.B.C. and other broadcasting authorities will be able to record such music without the author's permission and without any payment to him whatever, provdided that they have obtained a licence to broadcast and that the records are destroyed within 28 days after going on the air, but since there is no obligation on the broadcaster to give notice to the copyright owner of the making and destroying of such records, this proviso is valueless.
We urge Parliament to delete this subsection from the Bill and leave the author with his full and natural rights; or, alternatively, give broadcasting authorities a licence of right in respect of "ephemeral" recordings, on payment of a reasonable fee.
(3)  Clause 40, broadcast relay services (in the Bill called diffusion services).  These services are operated by commercial companies which offer their subscribers the choice of three to five broadcast programmes, transmitted to them by wire.  At present, the author has the right to charge for this use of his copyright property, but Clause 40 virtually frees these companies from all liability to the author.  During the debates in the House of Lords, it was agreed that the terms of the original Bill needed amendment in the author's favour; but in the House of Commons committee stage an amendment in favour of the diffusion services was carried against the Government.  As the Government spokesman in the debate pointed out, this not only virtually deprived the author of his only practical means of obtaining fees but was in contravention of the Brussels Convention 1948.
We emphasize that we are not asking for a new right, but it is one that, because of the great expansion of the diffusion services, will become increasingly important in the future.  In common justice, one of two things should be done.  Either revert to the status quo under the 1911 Act, or reintroduce the Government's proposals regarding Clause 40 in place of those that, from a confusion between the public interest and the commercial profit of large and wealthy interests, were passed in committee.
(4)  Trbunal.  As so long advocated by our society, the Bill will establish a tariffs appeal tribunal.  Surely the public interest will be adequately safeguarded if the powers of the tribunal are extended to the statutory royalty on records, the "ephemeral" recording for broadcasting, and the diffusion services?  It was said during the second reading debate, by speakers on both sides, that, in a conflict between the author's right and powerful exploiters of that right, the author's right should prevail.  Here are three such conflicts.  We urge Parliament to stand fast by its own declaration of the basic principle of copyright.
Yours faithfully,
Arthur Bliss, Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Alwyn, Arthur Benjamin, Benjamin Britten, Eric Coates, Vivian Ellis, Douglas Furber, A.P. Herbert, Christopher Hassall, Eric Maschwitz, Sidney Torch, Haydn Wood, Montague Phillips.

General notes: 

Printed in The Times newspaper, Tuesday 16 October, 1956, headed "The Copyright Bill: Grave injustice in proposals".

The Times (no.53663), Tuesday, October 16, 1956, p.11.