Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams and others to the Editor of The Times

Letter No.: 
Tuesday 27 March, 1956

29, Maddox Street, W.1.

We write to draw attention to two respects in which the Copyright Bill, as it now leaves the House of Lords for "another place," seems to us to fall short of that sympathy for composers which Government spokesmen have so often expressed in the course of the debate.
The first of these is the clause which perpetuates the system under which, having given permission to one record manufacturer to record a musical work, we cannot refuse permission to any other manufacturer.  In spite of vigorous opposition during the committee and report stages, the Government seem wedded to this provision, and one oft-repeated reason for their attitude is that "there has been remarkably little pposition to this state of affairs from the composers."  As composers of many different types of music, we desire to say emphatically that we do strenuously oppose the continuance of this state of affairs.
If we did not oppose this before the Copyright Committee, 1951, it is because the introduction of long-playing records and the many recent advances in the technique of sound-recording have in the past few years radically altered the situation.  To the argument that the existing situation has given the public advantage of free competition between record manufacturers, we reply that, in our own interests, we should not be likely often to withhold permission to record but we do claim the right (which authors and dramatists have) to decide for ourselves what commercial use is to be made of the product of our brains.
Our other grievance concerns the right now to be given to broadcasting organizations to record our music without fee or permission, provided that the record is destroyed within 28 days of being first broadcast.  This again, we submit, is a quite unjustifiable derogation of our natural rights; and moreover it deprives us, at a stroke, of a source of revenue which we have enjoyed for many years as the result of free negotiation and which has gone some way to offset the marked decrease in our receipts from sheet music sales.  We concede of course that, as the Lord Chancelloor said, "it is only by recording a performance at a time convenient to them that the services of many artists can be made available at all"; but this seems to us quite irrelevant to the composer's right to negotiate the conditions under which this may be done.
The Copyright Act of 1911 has lasted for 45 years, and it is to be presumed that a similar period will elapse before our copyright legislation is again amdended.  We therefore urge the Government to give further consideration to the matters referred to above and introduce appropriate amendments when the Bill reaches the House of Commons.
Yours faithfully,
Arthur Bliss, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gordon Jacob, William Alwyn, Eric Coates, Sidney Torch

General notes: 

Printed in The Times newspaper, Tuesday 27 March, 1956, headed "Copyright Bill".

The Times (no.53490), Tuesday, March 27, 1956, p.11.