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.