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"French Elvis" Loses Court Battle over Song Rights


By Thierry Leveque

Reuters
Apr 12, 2005



Johnny Hallyday (Patrick Bernard/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS - Johnny Hallyday, the "French Elvis" lost the latest round of a legal fight with Universal Music Group for control of a back catalogue of more than 1,000 songs recorded during his four-decade career.

In a widely watched ruling, an appeals court overturned a previous decision ordering the Vivendi Universal-owned company to grant Hallyday control of master tapes recorded between 1961 and 2004.

The ruling was good news for the music industry, hit hard by Internet piracy, which feared the Hallyday case could set a precedent and force labels to grant artists more rights.

"This ruling favors producers and the record industry. The legal system has at last given the law in its rightful place," said David Forest, lawyer of the UPPFI union of French independent phonographic producers.

The ruling means that Universal can retain the rights to Hallyday's songs, although the two parties ended their association last year. Hallyday will have to record one last disc for the company.

Control of the master tapes would have allowed Hallyday, 61, whose real name is Jean-Philippe Smet, more freedom to exploit a substantial back catalogue that has won him a huge following in France.

The leather-clad singer can still appeal Tuesday's ruling and he can also pursue a claim for 50 million euros ($64 million) from Universal for what he said was proper remuneration for his success.

The court last August deferred a ruling into this aspect of the dispute, appointing an expert to evaluate whether such a system was fair and to report back before it makes a ruling.

The singer had argued that Universal tried to make him financially dependent by granting him loans of some 16.3 million euros between 1978 and 1997. He paid these back from revenues made from his recordings.

Universal's lawyers, speaking of a "trial of ingratitude," rejected suggestions Hallyday was unfairly treated and said the company had supported Hallyday through his financial difficulties.

Often referred to as the "French Elvis", Hallyday is a national icon in France, although few outside his home country have ever heard of him. A U.S. newspaper once called him "the biggest rock star you've never heard of".

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin boasts of doing impressions of the gravel-voiced Hallyday and President Jacques Chirac used one of the singer's perennial hits to set the beat for his election rallies in 2002.

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