A leading Birmingham music organisation has expressed dismay after being criticised by a judge in a landmark case which could cost a record company £500,000 in legal costs.
Musicologist Dr Lionel Sawkins successfully sued Hyperion Records in the High Court for infringement of copyright after Birmingham-based choir Ex Cathedra recorded his performing editions of four works by the 17th century French composer Michel-Richard de Lalande.
The ruling by Mr Justice Patten has sent fears through the recording industry of establishing the precedent that royalties may have to be paid on the music of long-dead composers.
Copyright normally lapses 70 years after a composer's death.
Hyperion - which is planning an appeal - has withdrawn the CD, which had sold 3,332 copies worldwide, recouping £14,000 of its £33,000 costs. Dr Sawkins' share in royalties on these sales would have amounted to about £2,900.
In his judgment, Mr Justice Patten was critical of Ex Cathedra, stating: "It was clear to me that Ex Cathedra really played both sides off to ensure that the recording did proceed."
As a result, Dr Sawkins and Hyperion went into the recording sessions "at cross purposes" regarding the copyright situation.
John Pulford, chairman of Ex Cathedra - which specialises in authentic performances of baroque music - last night said he believed the judge's comments were unfair.
"We were not on trial and had no legal representation to cover our interests," he said. "We did our best, and I did not expect our reputation would be called into question."
The dispute brought an abrupt end to a successful 12-year collaboration between Dr Sawkins and Ex Cathedra in promoting Lalande's music, during which the Birmingham choir became the first group ever to perform his music at the Proms.
Dr Sawkins, who is a leading expert on the composer and was appointed a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government in 1996, also helped the group secure a prestigious concert performance of Lalande's music in Paris.
He said he was delighted with the judgment "which should fire a shot across the bows of record companies and ensure they recognise the rights of those who prepare thoroughly researched editions of early music".
He said he felt "totally betrayed" that Ex Cathedra did not make greater efforts to protect his interests.
He said: "When you have worked with someone for ten to 12 years and put all your enthusiasm into it, you just assume that everything will be treated, as I said in court, in an honourable and decent way."
Jeffrey Skidmore, Ex Cathedra's artistic director, said: "We tried to be the peacemakers in this, and tried to bring the two sides together. We are all very upset about it and sad that it has come to this.
"It's very easy to criticise with hindsight, but I knew nothing about Hyperion's view of copyright until it all blew up in our faces just before the recording session." Simon Perry, director of Hyperion, said the ruling was potentially catastrophic for music.
He said: "Of course editors should be paid for their work, but we do not think royalties are the appropriate means. That should be for creators of original work.
"We make 50 or 60 recordings a year and nearly every one needs editorial input at some level."
Mr Perry said he did not realise Dr Sawkins was claiming copyright until the recording session was so close that it would have cost Hyperion money to cancel it.
He agreed that poor communication by Ex Cathedra, which was in the process of changing general managers at the time, had set Hyperion and Dr Sawkins on collision course.
But he added: "I think there was a series of errors, but I don't think there was any attempt to do anything wrong."