The trial judge had granted three declarations: (1) Fisher is a co-author of the song; (2) Fisher is a joint copyright owner, with a share of 40%; (3) Brooker and Onward Music’s licence to exploit the work was revoked on 31 May 2005.
The Court of Appeal set aside (2) and (3) on the basis of delay (acquiescence and laches) – producing the bizarre result that Fisher would be a co-author with no copyright ownership. Although there’s no statutory limitation period to a copyright claim, delay is a potential bar to an injunction – which is granted at the discretion of the court. Mummery LJ argued that because Fisher’s ultimate goal was an injunction he should not be allowed the copyright interest that would provide the basis for it.
The House of Lords, however, distinguished between the property right and the potential injunction. Property rights are not discretionary. To refuse a property right because it might lead to an inequitable injunction would be ‘the tail wagging the dog’. If Fisher were to use his newly asserted property right to seek an injunction, the court would be free to determine whether to grant it. The Lords were unanimous in their decision – even tickled pink. Baroness Hale exclaimed as she danced the light fandango: ‘As one of those people who do remember the sixties, I am glad that the author of that memorable organ part has at last achieved the recognition he deserves.’