Novello & Co Ltd v Keith Prowse Music Publishing Co Ltd (CA)

Reference: [2004] EWCA Civ 1776; [2005] RPC 23; [2005] EMLR 477; The Times, 10 January 2005

Court: Court of Appeal

Judge: Chadwick, Jacob LJJ, Lloyd J

Date of judgment: 14 Dec 2004

Summary: Copyright - Assignments - Reversionary Interest - Inter Vivos - Musical Works - Copyright Act 1956 - Copyright Act 1956, Sch.7 para.28(3) - Copyright Act 1911, s.5(2)

Instructing Solicitors: Davenport Lyons for the Appellant; Clintons for Respondent


The composer Richard Addinsell, who composed various film scores (including that for ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’) and who died in 1977, assigned in the 1940s the “whole of his copyright” in various musical works to a company, which in turn assigned that right to the Defendant. In 1973 the composer made a further assignment to the Defendant in writing. In 2000 the trustees of the composer assigned the reversionary copyright interest in his copyright works to the Claimant. At first instance, Patten J held that the 1973 was effective to pass the reversionary interest to the Defendant. The Claimant appealed, arguing that certain transitional provisions of the 1956 Act (specifically Sch.7 para.28(3)) had the effect of preventing further assignment of the reversionary interest by an author who had made an assignment prior to the Act coming into force.


Whether the transitional provisions of the 1956 Act had the effect that a living author of a work, who had made a transfer prior to the coming into force of the 1956 Act, could not subsequently transfer the reversionary interest in the copyright in his work.


In an ex tempore judgment, dismissing the appeal: the transitional provisions of the 1956 Act applied only to assignments which had come into effect prior to the commencement of the Act. Accordingly an author who had made a pre-1956 assignment could legitimately transfer a reversionary interest during the currency of the Act. The 1973 assignment to the Defendant was therefore effective.


This appeal is illustrative of the difficulties that can be caused by the application of transitional provisions and the fact that in respect of older works (in this case from the 1940s) the provisions of the 1911 Act, may still in 2004, be of relevance.