from the limitless-sense-of-entitlement dept
At the end of last year, Mike wrote about an attempt to keep the Diary of Anne Frank out of the public domain by adding her father's name as a co-author. As Techdirt wrote at the time, that seemed to be a pretty clear abuse of the copyright system. But it also offered a dangerous precedent, which has just turned up again in a complicated case involving the French composer Maurice Ravel, and his most famous composition, the hypnotically repetitive ballet score "Bolero."
Ravel died on December 28, 1937, so you might expect the score to have entered the public domain in 2008, since EU copyright generally lasts 70 years after the death of a creator. But by a quirk of French law, an extra eight years and 120 days is added for musical works published between January 1, 1921, and December 31, 1947 (on account of the Second World War, apparently). Ravel's Bolero first appeared in 1922, and therefore receives the extra years of copyright, which means that according to French law, it entered the public domain on May 1 this year.
But Bolero has a big problem -- actually, a $57 million problem, which is the amount the work is estimated to have generated in royalties since 1960. Naturally, the owners of the copyright were keen to continue receiving that nice flow of money for doing precisely nothing. So they came up with an idea: add a co-author, which would, as with the Diary of Anne Frank case, conveniently extend the copyright, in this case by another 20 years (original in French.)
Fortunately, the French Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers of Music (SACEM), which handles these matters, has decided that adding a co-author was not justified, and that Bolero should indeed enter the public domain (original in French). As a result, you can find the score and performances of Bolero freely available on Wikimedia Commons and elsewhere.
This episode is even more outrageous than it seems, because of who exactly was trying to get the copyright extended. As Yahoo News explains:
Ravel died unmarried and childless in 1937.
So the connection of the copyright holders with Ravel was in any case extremely tenuous. Credit to SACEM for rejecting -- unanimously -- the attempt to use the co-author trick. Sadly, this is unlikely to be the last time we see it deployed given the limitless sense of entitlement displayed by some copyright holders.
His only heir was his brother Edouard, who died in 1960, unleashing a bitter and complex legal battle over the rights which at times has involved Edouard's nurse and her husband, great-nephews and even a legal director of SACEM.