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

Reference: [2004] EWHC 766 (Ch); [2004] EMLR 296

Court: Chancery Division

Judge: Patten J

Date of judgment: 7 Apr 2004

Summary: Copyright - Assignments - Reversionary Interest - Inter Vivos - Musical Works - Copyright Act 1956 - Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 - Copyright Act 1911, s.5(2)

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Instructing Solicitors: Davenport Lyons for the Claimant; Clintons for the Defendant


The composer Richard Addinsell, who composed various film scores (including that for ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’) and who died in 1977, had assigned the “whole of his copyright” in various musical works to a company in the 1940s, which had in turn assigned it to the Defendant. In 1973 the composer had made a further assignment to the Defendant in writing. In 2000, the trustees of the composer had assigned the reversionary interest in his copyright to the Claimant. All of the relevant works had been written before the Copyright Act 1956 came into force. It was accepted by the Claimant that if the 1973 assignment was effective to assign the reversionary interest, then the 2000 assignment was of no effect.


Whether a living author of a work could transfer the reversionary interest in the copyright in his work during the currency of the Copyright Act 1956.


The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 did not alter the effect of the 1956 Act. Under that Act, the proviso to s.5(2) of the Copyright Act 1911, which prevented such assignments of reversionary interests, only applied to pre-commencement assignments. It therefore applied to the assignment in the 1940s, but not to the 1973 assignment, which, properly construed, was effective to pass the reversionary interest.


As the judge noted, although it is now almost 50 years since the 1956 Act came into force and more than 10 years since it was repealed by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, prior to this decision the point of statutory construction at issue remained unresolved. This case 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.