The Guardian reports that a new aria by Bach has been discovered in a three-centuries-old shoebox. The first page of the score can be viewed at the Leipzig Bach Archive website. I have two questions: 1) Are shoeboxes really three centuries old? 2) Who's going to cash in? According to the magnificent new legal precedent set by Dr. Lionel Sawkins, whoever writes out an arrangement for strings and basso continuo is eligible for royalties on his or her work. If you're still interested in the possibly exhausted Sawkins matter, read on.
Sawkins, the musicologist who successfully sued Hyperion Records for violating his alleged copyright of several eighteenth-century works, and who now expects the label to pay his million-pound lawyers' fees, has found some eloquent defenders on the web, notably Tim Johnson, Galen Brown, and, of course, the Notorious A.C.D. (aw shucks once again). I've gone back to study carefully the judgment of Justice Patten (see especially points 71-83). As far as I can tell, things went down this way. Ex Cathedra, an English ensemble, sought to make a recording of works of Lalande with a company that would assume all financial responsibility. Hyperion, an independent label known for its lofty ideals, stepped into the role. It agreed to pay Lionel Sawkins, retired Principal Lecturer at the Roehampton Institute, a one-off fee to create editions for the recording. It had no knowledge of Sawkins' grander ambitions. Only after Sawkins had finished his work did Hyperion learn that he expected to receive royalties and keep all rights to the recording. Hyperion rejected this proposition. Sawkins retained the high-powered law firm of Finers Stephens Innocent (not the same firm that represented him later). The chairman of Ex Cathedra reassured both parties that he would resolve the differences, then did nothing. It became "clear" to Sawkins (his own word at the trial) that Hyperion had rejected his contract. But he still allowed the recording to go ahead. And he took the check that Hyperion sent him. He then sued Hyperion for the infringement of rights that the label had never shown the slightest sign of recognizing. Who, really, was led down the garden path in this episode? Even if you think that Sawkins deserved to win his case on the merits, which I do not, you might still come to the conclusion that Hyperion is an extraordinary and honorable company that deserves support in its current dire state. They are soliciting donations at their website, so they won't to have cancel important projects currently underway.