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Live From Abbey Road producer says costs associated with Universal legal battle are disproportionate and unjust

By | Published on Thursday 11 March 2021

The Killers

The producer of the old ‘Live From Abbey Road’ TV show has told a court that he could be £600,000 out of pocket as a result of a legal dispute over the sale of three master tapes that would probably have netted him no more than $21,000.

Michael Gleason is embroiled in a legal battle with Universal Music following his decision to auction off some of the recordings he made as producer of the former Channel 4 show. He announced his auction plans shortly after Channel 4 confirmed it would no longer be broadcasting the programme, which originally aired between 2007 and 2012.

The dispute centres on whether or not Gleason is allowed to sell those recordings. Universal argues that, whenever artists signed to its labels featured on the programme, it rather than Gleason’s company actually owns the rights in those recordings.

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

When artists sign to record companies they normally grant the label exclusive rights over any recordings made while that deal is active. This 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.

In this dispute, Universal seemingly argues that, when it granted permission for The Killers, Elbow and Mika to appear on the Abbey Road show, Gleason’s company basically assigned the rights in those recordings back to the label. It then granted ‘Live From Abbey Road’ a licence to allow the recordings to be broadcast. But Gleason denies that is the case and insists he owns the copyright in the recordings of his old TV show.

The dispute is due to properly get to court in October, but – according to Law360 – this week there was a case management hearing during which Gleason discussed the mounting costs he is incurring as the legal battle ploughs on.

He told the court that his own legal costs to fight the case were set to reach £400,000, and if he lost the litigation and was forced to pay Universal’s lawyer fees, his total bill could reach £600,000. In order to mitigate the total possible financial liability, he has parted ways with his legal team and is now representing himself.

However, he said, given that he was seeking $7000 for each of the master tapes he put up for auction, the costs of fighting this legal action “are not proportionate at all and not just”.

A legal rep for Universal argued that $7000 was the starting price for the tapes in the planned auction, and the final price paid could have been much higher given the artists involved.

However, Gleason countered that the buyer of the tapes would not get any rights to commercially exploit the recordings, which meant the target for the auction was super-fans rather than corporate copyright owners, which would have restricted the level of bidding.

Elsewhere at the case management hearing, the judge said that the Universal labels that had dealings with ‘Live From Abbey Road’ should share with Gleason documents relating to their understanding and recognition of the copyright issues.

Last year a judge told Gleason to hand over certain correspondence from his side relating to the planned auction, because Universal wanted to assess if the producer actively knew he was breaching his past agreements with the labels by putting the master tapes up for sale.

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