In 1971 André Previn was three years into his tenure as the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. He was booked to appear on the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show, but two weeks before his mother fell ill and he flew to New York. Eric Morecambe was so concerned that he couldn’t make rehearsals that he considered pulling the sketch, and perhaps he was right, for it is said Previn learned his lines on the flight home on the day of the recording.
So, you ask, how are you going to squidge anything about the law into that? Well, let’s start with the name. Eric calls André Previn “Andrew Preview”, which was such a hit that Previn says he cannot walk through London without someone shouting out to Mr Preview, and London taxi drivers routinely refer to him by that name. Previn’s recording for the BBC Radio 3 programme ‘Composer of the Week’ was entitled ‘Guest Star: Andrew Preview”. Does the BBC own the name, since they commissioned and broadcast the programme? Or does the estate of Eric Morecambe? Or the writer, Eddie Braben? Or Previn himself, since he has become identified by it?
Speaking of the writing: Eddie Braben is credited with seeing the potential in Eric and Ernie, and making their natural music-hall repartee work on the television, but can he take the credit for writing the Andrew Preview sketch? It turns out that was an adaptation of an earlier sketch written for the second series of ‘Two Of A Kind’ broadcast in 1963, written by Sid Green and Dick Hills, plus some of the remarks were off the cuff, spur of the moment additions by both Previn and Morecambe.
The premise of the skit is that Previn has been booked to conduct world famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin, but when he gets to the set he is surprised to discover that Menuhin has been cancelled and he is expected to conduct Eric Morecambe in a performance of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Now, obviously Eric is not a concert pianist, that’s the joke. Only a very small part is played, and certainly not as the composer intended when he wrote it in 1868. Who does the new arrangement belong to? Was it written down or ad-libbed? Can it be said to be Grieg’s work at all? If not, then whose?
The final rights we have to consider are in the performance and broadcast. Who owns those and what rights do they have? There was a full orchestra: do they hold any sway? What kind of contracts would need to be in place to ensure that the BBC can continue to show the clip year after year? Assuming there is money to be made from resale, perhaps to overseas television companies, comedy clips programmes on other channels, streaming services and the like, for how many years does this continue? Is there copyright in television? How long does it last for? Do any of the people involved get a cut?
Did you expect so many legal questions? Perhaps not, and I have very few answers, so you’ll be glad to know that the Bodleian Law Library is a fount of legal knowledge. You might start with an overview, perhaps Intellectual property at KN111.BAI 2018 and Moral rights at KN113.DAV 2016. You can log on to a library computer to read the Research handbook on intellectual property and creative industries, The work and play of the mind in the information age : whose property? and an Introduction to media distribution : film, television, and new media (these are electronic legal deposit books, so you will need to be on a library computer). While you’re here, browse the shelves around KN111 to KN113, where you’ll find other useful books such as Performers’ Rights at KN112.9.P5.ARN 2015, Concepts of music and copyright : how music perceives itself and how copyright perceives music at KN112.5.RAH 2015, and Copyright law for writers, editors and publishers at KN112.DAV 2011.
Phew! Who knew Morecambe and Wise was so complicated? Perhaps it would be quicker to learn Greig’s Piano Concerto…