Composer Mike Batt pays the Cage estate “six-figures” for the use of silence:
- British composer Mike Batt found himself the subject of a plagiarism action for including the song, “A One Minute Silence,” on an album for his classical rock band The Planets.
He was accused of copying it from a work by the late American composer John Cage, whose 1952 composition “4’33″” was totally silent.
On Monday, Batt settled the matter out of court by paying an undisclosed six-figure sum to the John Cage Trust.
Batt, who is best known in the UK for his links with the children’s television characters The Wombles, told the Press Association: “This has been, albeit a gentlemanly dispute, a most serious matter and I am pleased that Cage’s publishers have finally been persuaded that their case was, to say the least, optimistic.
“We are, however, making this gesture of a payment to the John Cage Trust in recognition of my own personal respect for John Cage and in recognition of his brave and sometimes outrageous approach to artistic experimentation in music.”
Batt credited “A One Minute Silence” to “Batt/Cage.”
Before the start of the court case, Batt had said: “Has the world gone mad? I’m prepared to do time rather than pay out. We are talking as much as £100,000 in copyright.
“Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds.”
Batt gave a cheque to Nicholas Riddle, managing director of Cage’s publishers Peters Edition, on the steps of the High Court, in London.
Riddle said: “We feel that honour has been settled.
“We had been prepared to make our point more strongly on behalf of Mr Cage’s estate, because we do feel that the concept of a silent piece — particularly as it was credited by Mr Batt as being co-written by “Cage” — is a valuable artistic concept in which there is a copyright.
“We are nevertheless very pleased to have reached agreement with Mr Batt over this dispute, and we accept his donation in good spirit.”
This case amazes me. Cage’s estate would seem to prevail on two points: that Batt gave Cage co-writing credit (stupid if honest), and the copyright of the “artistic concept” of a silent piece, as mentioned by Cage’s publisher Riddle. My question is, is a “concept” copyrightable? I am looking in to this.
In order to have copyright protection, a composition must be original and be a work of authorship.
“In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, CONCEPT, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.”
17 U.S.C. 102(b)
It would seem clear that this case hinged on Batt’s listing Cage in the writer’s credits, and not on the copyright element, even though this took place in England. I am guessing the code is similar.