Peer International Corp v Termidor Music Editora Musical de Cuba
Reference:  EWCA Civ 1156;  Ch 212;  2 WLR 849;  RPC 23;  EMLR 34;  FSR 767
Court: Court of Appeal
Judge: Aldous, Mance, & Latham LJ
Date of judgment: 30 Jul 2003
Summary: Copyright - Musical works - Assignments - Licenses - Reversionary copyrights - Cuban law - Effectiveness of purported assignments of reversionary copyrights
Instructing Solicitors: Teacher Stern Selby for the appellant; Sheridans for the respondents.
The Claimants sought declarations that they were the owners, or alternatively the licensees, of the UK copyright in certain musical works composed by Cuban nationals. The Claimants alleged that they were the beneficiaries of assignments in writing made by the composers, or in some cases their heirs. The Defendants claimed to be the exclusive licensees of the copyright in the works pursuant to a licence granted by Editora Musical de Cuba (‘EMC’), which claimed to own the copyrights in dispute. EMC were added as Part 20 defendants, and they alone appealed against 2 findings of Neuberger J.
(1) Whether Cuban Law 860 prevented the purported assignments to the Claimants from having effect; (2) Whether the documents obtained by the Claimants from the heirs were effective to transfer title to the reversionary copyrights.
(1) There was no internationally accepted view on public policy as to assignments of copyright. Any exception based on public policy was therefore wrong in principle: Bank voor Handel En Scheepvaart NV v Slatford (1953) 1 QB 248. Cuban Law 860 took from the Claimants their copyright without compensation. The Judge was therefore correct to hold that it was ineffective as against the Claimants. (2) As a matter of construction, the documents made it clear that the intention of the parties was to transfer the UK copyrights. The Judge was therefore also correct to hold that the documents obtained by the Claimants from the heirs were effective to transfer the title in the reversionary copyrights.
An interesting case concerning the ownership of the UK copyright in respect of various musical works composed by Cuban nationals in respect of which agreements had been entered into between the 1930s and 1950s. The policy behind the Cuban law in issue was to re-exert Cuban control over intellectual property rights owned by Cuban nationals and prevented further exploitation of these rights by foreign companies. The case is illustrative of the difficult legal problems that arise when considering conflicts of laws in relation to the territorial nature of copyright.