May 27, 2005  ·  Lessig

Hyperion Records is one of the very best independent classical labels. According to its news page which is now up, it’s lost an appeal which will now jeapordize its existence. Hyperion was sued by Dr. Lionel Sawkins, who had created a performance edition of four works by Lalande. The British court has now concluded that a performance edition, even one that does not claim to be an “arrangement,” is copyrighted. Apparently, the “sweat of the brow” in producing the performance edition was enough to create an “original” work.

The British system shifts costs to the loser. That means the exposure could be “hundreds of thousands of pounds if not a million.” Most charitably, this is a close question. If you believe that this label should not go bankrupt just because they tried to defend the side they defended, you may think about offering some support.

  • aharden

    I’m confused. Did Hyperion publish Sawkins’ performances of the Lalande works, or other artists’ performance(s) of said works? Is the rub here that once someone publishes a performance of out-of-copyright music, they gain a copyright to any future published performances of said music (at least, within their copyright term)? If so, I don’t follow the logic.

  • Timothy Phillilps

    As I understand it, Sawkins’s scholarship in restoring the Lalande works from manuscript sources did involve a great deal of “sweat”. I sympathize, but I think we need to be rigidly dogmatic on this point. If every note Sawkins wrote down was what he truly believed was Lalande’s original work, then he cannot claim copyright, however much labor it cost him to deduce what Lalande wrote. If Sawkins tries to make his claim in the U.S. as well as the U.K. I hope we find some way of resisting it.

    Also, as I understand from the London Times, Sawkins was paid for his work.

  • Danny Goodman

    Legal issues aside, the loss of Hyperion would be a giant loss for classical music lovers. They produce consistenly well-engineered recordings of repertoire that the big labels wouldn’t touch (such as the work at the center of this case). Hyperion is, for me, a “desert island” label.

  • Timothy Phillips

    Richard Morrison’s comments of March 7th 2005 give helpful background:,,1-348-1511588-348,00.html

  • aharden

    That’s a great reference, Timothy. Thanks.