Laws and Lawyers

Silence is Golden — And Subject to Copyright


#JohnCage #music #4'33
The estate of John Cage (pictured above) filed a copyright infringement claim against another composer for stealing from his piece of silent music.

When British composer Mike Batt included a song aptly titled “A One Minute Silence” in The Planets’ album “Classical Graffiti,” he thought he had hit upon a clever way to separate two distinct sections of the album. What he didn’t count on was being hit with a lawsuit for copyright infringement from someone who claimed to own the rights to those sixty seconds of silence.

The lawsuit came from the estate of the late John Cage, a composer who challenged traditional notions of music by altering the way a piano could be played, incorporating the sounds of insects into his works, and other noteworthy departures from the status quo.

One of Cage’s most famous compositions was his 1952 piece “4’33″”. The principal feature of the music was its silence. Musicians who perform the piece are to sit with their instruments for four minutes and thirty-three seconds without playing a note. The only noise to be heard is the ambient sound of the surroundings.

The John Cage Trust alleged that Batt’s “One Minute of Silence” directly infringed upon Cage’s longer composition and demanded £100,000. Batt initially refused, stating, “Mine is a much better silent piece. I have been able to say in one minute what Cage could only say in four minutes and 33 seconds.”

The parties ultimately settled the matter out of court for an undisclosed six-figure amount.

As part of the settlement, Batt’s song, “A One Minute Silence” has been released as part of a double A-side single.

To see and hear Cage’s masterpiece “4’33″”, click here.

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