Popular Music and Copyright Law in the Sixties

AuthorJose Bellido
Publication Date01 Nov 2013
ISSN: 0263-323X, pp. 570±95
Popular Music and Copyright Law in the Sixties
Jose Bellido*
Copyright and its relationship with popular music is one of the most
disputed issues amongst music and copyright scholars. While some
have accused copyright of being blind (or deaf) to the particularities of
popular music, others have defended its significance within the
industry. This article contributes to this debate by tracing the networks
of connections between lawyers, musicians, and clerks that emerged in
a formative period in British pop music (the Sixties). It considers how
their collaborative efforts and strategies to present evidence in
copyright infringement trials were articulate d in an attempt to
influence music copyright infringement tests in Britain. By highlighting
the concrete geographical and temporal contexts from which these
networks emerged and their particular contingencies, the article also
casts a new light on the impact of the legal profession on copyright,
showing a practice-oriented and historically situated way of observing
differences between French and British copyright systems.
In the late 1950s London's Soho Square was not only a magnet for musicians
and artists;
it also attracted lawyers. Aside from its being a trendy spot,
these solicitors were interested in the entertainment district as a new place to
*School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street,
London WC1E 7HX, England
Thanks to John Repsch, Paul Nieman, Leon Morgan, Gerald Pointon, Guy Protheroe,
Natalie van Parys, Ray Luker, Paul and Julie Bush, Dante Campailla, and Alan Reed for
sharing their recollections of the past or giving me access to archival records. I am also
grateful to David Lobenstine, Cara Levey, and the anonymous reviewers for their
comments that have substantially improved the article. All errors are mine.
1 B. Miles, London Calling: A Countercultural History of London since 1945 (2011)
6±9; M. Hutton, The Story of Soho: The Windmill Years 1932±1964 (2012) 209; R.
Porter, London: A Social History (2000) 443.
ß2013 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2013 Cardiff University Law School
work, a point on the map that strategically enhanced their possibilities for
meeting clients, negotiating deals, and understanding the intricacies of the
rising entertainment industry. Moreover, moving to Soho was also a clear
statement of principles, a way for a lawyer to distinguish himself from the
more formal and conservative environment of Fleet Street and other tradi-
tional lawyers' haunts. If we consider these moves to Soho Square, we gain
new insight into the ways that lawyers engaged with this nascent, and
increasingly popular, form of entertainment. We see that a longstanding
assumption ± that copyright law `failed to accommodate popular music' ± is
not entirely accurate.
The clearest example of accommodation, in fact,
comes from the way an alternative legal landscape in London emerged in
Soho Square across the next decade. As lawyers moved to Soho Square to
take advantage of the burgeoning music scene, they created a distinctive type
of professional expertise. Geographical relocation was accompanied by a
broader shift within the profession: the codification of legal practices and the
emergence of legal networks around copyright in popular music, which
began in the late 1950s. The appearance and success of legal offices in Soho
proves that at least some lawyers took the rise of popular music seriously,
and tried to link the particularities of this music to the particulars of
copyright law. It is true that specialist copyright lawyers and barristers had
always existed and had accompanied the development of the law. Popular
music, however, presented different and new challenges, not only because it
was not frequently written down but also because the local contexts from
which it emerged were not usually areas where one could expect to find
lawyers. The creation of this legal specialization ± and the relationships it
gave rise to ± in turn shaped a series of legal tests and ways of dealing with
popular music, some of which had an impact on the ways British music
copyright evolved.
The links established between law firms and Soho acknowledged a
particular awareness of and empathy towards popular music. Walter
Frederick (`Sam') Lyons (1910±1978), a solicitor who made his name in
the West End, epitomizes this new legal sensitivity. By the end of the 1950s,
he devoted himself almost exclusively to popular music and show business
enterprises and although his law firm, Davenport Lyons, eventually moved
offices, it remained loyal to the same neighbourhood for more than three
decades. As we parse the networks that emerged between the worlds of law
and popular music, it is not easy to account for all the different ways in
which law firms build up their client portfolios. We are often left to guess at
how a client first came to contact a lawyer. However, the list of clients
secured by Sam Lyons speaks for itself. Nearly all his clients (music
publishers, composers, performers) were related to Soho in one way or
2 See J. Toynbee, `Musicians' in Music and Copyright, eds. S. Frith and L. Marshall
(2004) 127, and comments by L. Bently, `Authorship of Popular Music in UK
Copyright Law' (2009) 12 Information, Communication & Society 179.
ß2013 The Author. Journal of Law and Society ß2013 Cardiff University Law School

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