Procul Harum – A whiter shade of pale

By tyndallwoods October 8, 2010

Co-Writer of 1960s Hit Wins Share of Royalties

More than 40 years after the Procol Harum song ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ topped the UK charts, organist Matthew Fisher has finally won a share of the royalties, following a decision of the House of Lords.

Mr Fisher, who claimed he wrote the organ introduction to the 1967 hit as well as parts of the melody, won a claim in 2006 in the High Court, which awarded him 40 per cent of the royalties from the tune from the date of bringing the action as well as recognition as co-writer. However, this decision was overturned two years later in the Court of Appeal, which ruled that Mr Fisher was entitled to credit for co-authorship of the song but had no right to royalties as he had waited nearly 40 years before making a claim. His right to royalties was always denied by the band’s leader Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid.

Mr Fisher appealed to the House of Lords, which awarded him damages plus an entitlement to a share in future royalties from the song. In his judgment, Lord Hope wrote that ‘a person who…did so much to make the song in its final form such a success, is entitled to protect the advantage that he has gained from this and to earn his reward’.

The tune has been estimated to generate six-figure annual royalties, even four decades after it spent five weeks at No 1.

The bitterness of the conflict is illustrated by the fact that Procol Harum released in 2006 a ‘40 year’ limited collectors’ edition of the song crediting only Matthew Fisher and Keith Reid and bearing the words ‘Gary Brooker the original composer of A Whiter Shade of Pale declines to share this credit until a decision is made by the Court of Appeal…’. He and Fisher will clearly not be on each other’s Christmas card lists.

This was one of seven cases on which the House of Lords issued judgments during its final sitting. In October 2009, the UK Supreme Court will replace it as the highest court in the land.

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