Friday, April 10, 2009

Singin' the Blues

Local singer-songwriter Tanya Chua's application for a declaration of copyright ownership was denied by the High Court in October 2008. The reasons for the judgment were released on 31 March 2009 as Ms. Chua had filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

In 2002, Ms. Chua had entered into an agreement with her music publisher, agreeing among other things to "irrevocably and absolutely assign, convey and grant to the Publisher (the music publisher), its successors and assigns all rights and interests of every kind, nature and description in and to the ... Compositions created by the Writer (Ms. Chua) during the term of this Agreement." In return, the music publisher was to exploit the songs composed by Ms. Chua for which she would receive royalty payments.

In 2005, a second agreement was entered into by the parties. This agreement purported to extend the obligations of the parties under the earlier agreement till 17 March 2007. Ms. Chua had an option to extend the validity of this second agreement past 17 March 2007. However, the second agreement also contained clauses that expressly stated that certain terms of the earlier agreement would survive 17 March 2007.

The basis of Ms. Chua's application was that since she had not opted for the extension past 17 March 2007, the copyright in her compositions would revert back to her. She also alleged that the music publisher had continued to exploit the compositions past 17 March 2007 without her consent.

The High Court Judge found that the music publisher was entitled to continue exploiting the compositions past 17 March 2007, as the second agreement specifically stated that this right would survive past the said date. Further, the Judge also noted that Ms. Chua had "appeared to have completely overlooked the fact that she would continue to be paid royalties (in perpetuity) by the defendant for the ... compositions that she had assigned to the company. It was not a situation where she was put into bondage by the defendant without any consideration or benefit to her."

Indeed, it would appear that this reeks a little of biting the hand that feeds. According to the music publisher, it had pulled Ms. Chua out of the realm of anonymity and helped her gain celebrity status. Ms. Chua has won several awards since 2006, including Best Female Singer and Best Album Producer at the Taiwan Golden Melody Awards.

Well, now that an appeal has been filed, I can't help but hear Mr. Kravitz's falsetto ringing in my head, going "it ain't over till (the 3 judges say) it's over".

Citation : Chua Chian Ya v. Music & Movements (S) Pte Ltd. [2009] SGHC 75

1 comment: said...

Interesting and informative topic. You did a great job in writing this article. Thanks a lot.