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The Stupidest Music Lawsuit Ever – Infringing on Cage’s 4’33″

July 12th, 2007 Posted in cage, classical music

4?33?The internet is riddled through with music copyright infringement lawsuits, like a great big illegal swiss cheese. You’re probably pretty used to reading about people ripping off music and getting sued for it. This one might shock even the most lawsuit-jaded: in 2002 the composer Mike Batt made a six-figure, out-of-court settlement for infringing on John Cage’s 1952 work, 4’33″.

Yeah, that 4’33″. The silent one.

It started when Batt and his band The Planets released a Crossover-Classical (Eugh. I hate that term) album called Classical Graffiti. Batt wanted to explicitly separate the tracks at the end from those at the beginning, because they were done in a different style. He thought it would be fun to do this with a track called “One Minute Silence (after Cage)”. This was credited to Batt/Cage.

Shortly after the album was released (and went to number one in the UK classical charts) Mike was contacted by Peters Edition, the publisher of Cage’s work, demanding one-quarter of the royalties from the sale of the song.

They argued over this for a while – interestingly provoking the kind of discussion which Cage had originally intended when he first performed the piece: does it truly qualify as a work? If not, why not? There was even a side-by-side concert performance of the two pieces in London, so that the, errr, differences could be illustrated.

Batt eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed six-figure sum. However, he pointed out that Peters had acknowledged they didn’t have much of a case, and that he was donating the money out of respect for John Cage — to the John Cage Trust.

I suppose the real issue wasn’t so much the copying of silence (otherwise there’d be a hell of a lot more lawsuits…) but the fact that Batt credited Cage as a writer.

Incidentally, Batt ended up re-registering the track using his pseudonym “Clint Cage”. Also incidentally, Batt was the guy who came up with the theme tune to the Wombles, as well as the music for the famous Art Garfunkel “Bright Eyes” track in Watership Down.

20 Responses to “The Stupidest Music Lawsuit Ever – Infringing on Cage’s 4’33″”

  1. mind Says:

    all music lawsuits are stupid – information wants to be copied. that’s kind of one of its defining characteristic. any kind of intervention is just propping up antiquated business models


  2. John Bickerton Says:

    This response is to comment #1 by “mind”.

    Copyright protects creators and their works. Since when does “information want to be copied”. This is some new Web 2 babble.

    Seems to me its always the people who have no financial stake in the working of copyright that express the “free love” mantra and gripe about antiquated business models. Maybe your employer sees your paycheck as an antiquated business model.

    I would only ask “How do you make your living?” You surely don’t depend on album royalties or royalties from the broadcast of your work.


  3. mike batt Says:

    [...] settlement for infringing on John Cage??s 1952 work, 4???33???. Yes, that 4???33???. The silent one.http://classicalconvert.com/2007/07/the-stupidest-music-lawsuit-ever-infringing-on-cages-433/BBC NEWS Entertainment Music Silent music dispute resolvedMike batt &middot Peters Edition &middot [...]


  4. Etha Williams Says:

    I’m pretty sure Cage wouldn’t have approved of this lawsuit. He was all about decreasing the composer’s ego in the music (or so he said, I suppose he did always credit himself as composer). 4’33” seems to me the ultimate listener-centered piece; the composer and musicians frame the sound, and you do the rest. Turning it into an ego/proprietary issue (as Peters has) is ignoring the whole point of the music.


  5. Scheherez Says:

    Oh crap!

    THIS is MUSIC?

    Music has notes! A Melody! And a rhythm! Anybody who defines “no sound” as music should be made deaf! Then they’ll hear “music” all their life!

    It’s amazing what people in the 60s did to make flipping money…

    Honestly, this is just to get paid to NOT play an instrument…

    A DEAF MUTE does this all the time! What, is he/she infringing on “copyright”, too?

    No sound is exactly that…NO SOUND! Thus, it is not music.


  6. Someone Says:

    4 33 is not just 4 minutes and 33 seconds of absolute silence. The music is the old man coughing, pages in programs being turned, and the various odd noises one would here during a performance.


  7. Scheherez Says:

    That is STILL not music! As stated before…

    Music has NOTES! A MELODY!

    Coughing is NOT a MELODY! Neither is a turning page! What note is that? Z suspended?

    Someone should come back to me when he can write sheet notation for this piece…WITH ACTUAL NOTES!!!!! And CHORD PROGRESSIONS TOO!

    Yeh…again, silence is NOT music!


  8. J Saragoza Says:

    Music consists of physical sounds emanating waveforms. In music there often is “harmony” which isn’t melody, through bass which often isn’t melody. What is really meant is that music is an assembly of not too complicated equal tempered pitches(maybe)that make me comfortable. But that perspective eliminates a complete body of “music” from the past when it was common to people to listen to what was easy in their time and culture (e.g. early Japanese music consisting of in between tones). Meantone temperament was used in the Renaissance. Use that tuning today and it will sound out of tune for many listeners. So what many want is comfortable music. Comfortable job, comfortable house, comfortable car. It’s ironic that anybody can listen to 4:33 at anytime of the day unknowingly and be comfortable with the sounds around them, but tell them to listen and call it music (which Cage did) and they become uncomfortable. What it really says is something about a person and not about music. Music is an art and like all arts it’s a vehicle for reflection.


  9. Some People! Says:

    Scheherez, my friend…you know NOTHING of music. You’re sad definition only exposes your ignorance on the topic. Please refrain and come back after you get educated. Music does NOT have to have “notes” nor does it require a melody; it would take seconds to demonstrate that to you. Chord progressions!??? Really? So all the pre-Renaissance literature is now NOT music?

    Music is simply “organize sound”. Oddly, the definition of speech is the nearly the same. Sorry if this is beyond your grasp.


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  16. The Industry versus the Individual « Sean@UOW Says:

    [...] In 2002, Mike Batt and his band The Planets released an album that had a track called ‘One Minute Silence (after Cage), which was a one minute track. Of silence. Of which Batt had credited to John Cage, yet still infringed upon the intellectual copyright of Cage’s ‘4’33”’, also a silent track. Each piece was performed side by side so that they could be differentiated! In court, Batt made a settlement over a large sum of money that was given to the John Cage Trust. [...]


  17. Los sonidos del silencio | Pseudópodo Says:

    [...] de duración completamente silencioso. Lo tituló A One Minute Silence, y el abogado de Cage se querelló contra él por violación de los derechos de autor. Finalmente, el asunto se saldó con un acuerdo privado por [...]


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    [...] The Stupidest Music Lawsuit Ever – „Infringing on Cage’s 4’33″ [...]


  20. The 12 Weirdest Lawsuits of All Time « Man Cave Daily Says:

    [...] 2002 musician Mike Batt put a track on his album that was just silence. No words, no music, just silence. Apparently another musician, John Cage, [...]


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