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Elvis Album At The Center Of U.K. Copyright Row

December 14, 2007 | Music
U.K. distributor Cargo Records has pulled the plug on an Elvis Presley release after Sony BMG Music Enterainment in the U.K. sent out a letter threatening legal action, Billboard.biz has learned.

In one of the clearest signs to-date of Sony BMG's tough policy of enforcing the copyright of its vintage Presley works -- even though some sound recordings have become part of the public domain -- the music major put pressure on Cargo to withdraw the release, "New York: RCA Studio 1: The Complete Sessions." Sony BMG disputed that a handful of outtakes on the album, which was released by Memphis Recording Service, were public domain.

Cargo now won't touch the Memphis release, and the CD has no support from traditional retail outlets. An executive with the distributor, who declined to be identified, described the Sony BMG letter as a "warning" of further action to come. "To save us the risk of legal action, we decided we wouldn't distribute the item," the Cargo executive adds.

The release is still featured on the Cargo Records Web site, but the purchase function has been disabled. Memphis Recording Service director Joseph Pirzada tells Billboard.biz that he responded on behalf of Cargo on three occasions since the letter was received five or six weeks ago, but heard nothing in response.

"I've not received a letter, an email, or any telephone calls," he tells Billboard.biz. "I told Sony BMG they were wrong, and that the outtakes on the CD were recorded before the June 1, 1957. Which means it is in the public domain."

He adds, "I'm not worried and I haven't been worried," and notes that his company continues to sell the product. But he admits Sony BMG's action had "thrown a spanner in the works."

A Sony BMG spokesman declined to comment in depth on the issue, other than to confirm "that we are in correspondence with them" on the matter. The spokesman adds, "it is our policy to keep close scrutiny on any third parties who are thinking of releasing Elvis recordings assuming them to be in the public domain when they may in fact not be."

Memphis Recording Service became headline news in the summer when its Presley release "My Baby Left Me" entered the Official U.K. U.K. Singles Charts at No. 19, becoming the first out-of-copyright recording to be a U.K. Top 40 hit. The song was originally recorded by Presley in 1956, so entered the public domain on Jan. 1 2007.

Despite furious lobbying from the music industry, the U.K. government recently backed the Gowers Review, which recommended the copyright term for sound recordings should remain at 50 years.

The "My Baby Left Me" single was meant to set-up the launch of the now-disputed "New York" sessions album, says Pirzada, and has since sold 20,000 copies worldwide, about half of which came in the U.K. Cargo distributed "My Baby Left Me," which was sold exclusively through HMV.

The Cargo-Memphis relationship remains in tact. "We still distribute the label and other titles," says the Cargo executive, "and we will distribute the title next year when the 'offending' material is removed from the product." Pirzada says Memphis will relaunch the product in February. "They put a spanner in the works for us before Christmas," he says. "All its done is delay us for few weeks."

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JimmyCool wrote on December 14, 2007
I've never liked these releases, I always thought it's the same thing we already have on RCA/ Sony/ BMG and FTDs, only claiming that it has better sound now, which is not true... I'm sure I'll get replies defending this cr*ap, but I think these releases shouldn't exist!
SuziB wrote on December 14, 2007
Copyright extends from first publication/issue date not when the material was recorded! I can't believe Pirzada doesn't know this -I'm sure he must!
Harvey Alexander wrote on December 14, 2007
It's about time somebody did something about these opportunist releases.
Steve V wrote on December 14, 2007
I have viewed all of these releases as nothing more than bootlegs. Not distrubuted by Sony/BMG? Then it's a boot and the sound is not better than a legal release, just mixed differently to fool you into thinking it is.
marty wrote on December 15, 2007
There are two kinds of "out-of-copyright" releases out there. The complete crap ones that have absolutely nothing to offer and no effort has been put into them, and those that have something to offer because some people have done some work in producing them (i.e. nice cover, booklet with rare or unreleased photos, very rarely good sound quality etc). Unfortunately the totaly crap ones are dominating the market and since it's often difficult to set them apart they should all be banned! It is a stupid law anyway. If you are selling a product how can you not pay royalties? I can understand it if you just want to make available for free (i.e. from the internet) but if you are making money out of it...
Jumpin Jehosaphat wrote on December 18, 2007
Once again BMG (Buy my Garbage) is playing hard ball somebody find s sosmething somebody wants and just like the the Germans of the 1930's they take it away. The stuff is public domain and just because a little company cant fight a giant they are forced to cave in. Ernst you are just a low as any of the Germans of the 1930's
Tony D. wrote on December 20, 2007
BMG have a perfect right to protect their financial interests; after all, Elvis DID sign a contract with THEM in 1955! Don't worry if you can't get hold of this release - there is nothing new on it (according to many fans), apart from a handful of 'postage stamp' sized photos. The Wertheimer photos have already been used in at least 7 previous publications.