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Emails ordered to be shared in Live From Abbey Road litigation

By | Published on Thursday 21 May 2020

Abbey Road Studios

A UK judge yesterday ordered the producer of the one-time Channel 4 show ‘Live From Abbey Road’ to turn over correspondence relating to his plans to auction off master tapes from the programme. Those emails, said judge reckoned, could be informative as part a legal dispute between the programme’s maker and Universal Music.

Producer Michael Gleason announced his plans to auction off recordings made for the TV show last May, shortly after Channel 4 announced it would no longer be airing the programme. A plethora of artists were filmed performing at the legendary London studios as part of the series, which originally aired between 2007 and 2012.

The company set to oversee the auction noted at the time that “to create the best recordings possible, up to 90 microphones were used to record instrumental and vocal sound straight into the famous Abbey Road sound desks. To produce the best video footage possible, up to eight high-definition film and digital cameras captured every performance, as well as on-camera interviews with the individual artist or musical group”.

Gleason himself said that he had selected ‘Live From Abbey Road’ recordings from eighteen of his favourite artists for the first sale, adding “if you are a music collector, or love to collect but have never collected music before, these beautiful, original single edition audio and video recordings and photographs will be a priceless addition to your collections for you and generations to come”.

But the auction plans led to legal action by Universal Music, now the owner of Abbey Road Studios of course. Though the litigation actually centres on whether Gleason has the right to sell the master recordings his company made while producing the Channel 4 programme. Which basically amounts to a dispute over who owns the copyright in the recordings.

The default owner of a recording copyright in the UK is whoever organises for the recording to take place. Which is presumably why Gleason reckons he owns the rights in the master tapes from the programme he produced. However, there are complications.

While the specifics of Universal’s complaint are not entirely clear, when artists sign to record companies they normally grant the label exclusive rights over any recordings made while that deal is active. Which means that when those artists go on TV shows – where their performances will be recorded – the producer of the programme needs to get permission from the label to make that recording.

Obviously most labels are desperate for their artists to get TV exposure, so will gladly grant permission to a TV producer who plans to give an act airtime. But that permission may be subject to limitations on what happens to the recording that is made.

It seems that at the heart of this dispute are agreements that may or may not have been reached between Gleason’s company and various Universal labels when artists signed to the major appeared on ‘Live From Abbey Road’ – The Killers in particular.

Another question is whether Gleason knew that he was possibly in breach of those agreements when planning his auction.

It’s because of that latter point that Universal’s lawyers want to see correspondence relating to the auction plans. According to Law360, judge John Linwood stated: “There may be documentation, correspondence to or from third parties concerning Mr Gleason making offers or setting out his position, or for others saying he could or could not do things. I think such documentation should be searched for”.

Although Linwood added that any searching for and sharing of correspondence should happen as quickly as possible. Legal reps for Gleason had pointed out that Universal is much better resourced to fight this legal battle than their client, so any delays to the proceedings would be more damaging to his side than the other.