A complex web

I first came upon Classic Rock Productions in 2003. They had acquired the rights to the famous VdGG appearance on Belgian TV(1972), on which we played “Lighthouse-Keepers” in its entirety. Classic Rock put this out as a DVD. They had  not contacted us to get artists clearance for this release. After I got in touch with them we reached an agreement that they would pay an advance and artist royalties and a contract was signed on May 27rd 2003 with Stratford Copyright Ltd.

(As an aside, my attitude to this was that there would be a genuine interest in the material and that it was therefore beneficial for all concerned that it be out there in the marketplace.)

A few months after the signing of the contract I discovered that a new DVD was coming out in which the Belgian footage was combined with a performance of “Godbluff” from Charleroi in 1975.

Though surprised that I had not been contacted about this release I once again took the view that this was material of general interest. A new contract was agreed and signed on 3rd October 2003.

By this time  I had become concerned that a series of repackages might be forthcoming if, as and when other material was unearthed; and that the public might be persuaded to buy, again and again, the same material in order to get a new nugget. This would not fit well with VdGG’s approach to its audience. So a clause was inserted into the contract to the effect that the Godbluff material could not be coupled with any other audio-visual material without our consent.

I believe that Classic Rock were happy to have the product fully authorised, VdGG were happy for the DVDs to be on sale, I was happy for them to be available on the Sofa Sound website and many people were glad to have the opportunity to own these historic recordings.

In February 2005 (before an announcement of the VdGG reunion had been made) we were contacted by a Classic Rock representative hoping that we would contribute interviews to a proposed documentary DVD in their “A critical review” series. We (the four then-current members of VdGG) quickly decided not to participate in the project, though it later transpired that, unbeknownst to us, David Jackson had done so. We were aware that Judge Smith and Nic Potter, ex-members of the group, would be doing interviews.

In April 2005 Classsic Rock announced the scheduled release of “Inside VdGG”. Since the announcement flagged  the release as containing live footage I emailed the company  to point out that we had not given consent for the use of any previously unseen footage and that the footage from the “Godbluff” DVD could not be used with any other audio-visual material.

In July 2005 “Inside VdGG” was released as a 2 DVD set. Disc One consisted of various interviews and short extracts of performances. (It is my understanding that since this was an “educational” project the brevity of these extracts meant that they were not subject to normal copyright terms.) Oddly, for a “comprehensive review” no mention was made of any albums released later than “Godbluff”. Disc Two contained the Belgian and Charleroi footage as previously released, coupled with two other pieces recorded for the German programme “Beat Club”.

The covering letter which accompanied the copy I was sent stated “As you can see the performance tracks have not been compiled with any other material. For completeness sake it would have been to include the two beat clubs tracks on the disc of performances….” (sic)

I was grateful to be sent a copy but not impressed by the documentary element of the product. I wrote to point out that contrary to the contract terms the “Godbluff” material had been coupled with other audio-visual stuff. I suggested that the “critical review” DVD could be put out as a stand-alone product, in which, of course, we would have no royalty interest. However, since the original material had been used in the current DVD I suggested that royalties would be due on this product.

At the time I also advised the public not to buy the product unless they were fully aware of its nature and especially not if they had already purchased the original music DVD. (And in a newsletter later in the year I reiterated “to be avoided by all but the most avid completists, I would say….”) I was particularly concerned that, in the light of the VdGG reunion and attendant wave of publicity, this release was not taken to be specifically endorsed by, or part of the promotional effort of, the modern (2005) group.

The first letter I received in response from Classic Rock stated “Disc 2…has not been altered in any way or coupled with any new material.” An offer was made for me to contribute an interview (at a much increased fee) for a subsequent edition of the DVD.

In response I declined this offer and pointed out that in addition to coupling of the new “Beat Club” tracks on Disc two that  since the two DVDs were sold as a single unit the audio-visual material on Disc one was, in fact, coupled with the “Godbluff” material. I again stressed that royalties would be due for the use of the original material

I received a reply which finally acknowledged that the “Beat Club” tracks had been included, explaining that this had been as a result of a misunderstanding with the production and replication plant in Germany. It was also agreed that royalties would be paid at the contractual rate, but on 50% of the dealer price – reflecting the 2 DVD nature of the product.

In my answer (October 11, 2005) I once again stressed that it would be best if any second edition of “Inside VdGG”  consisted of a single DVD, the “critical review” one, reiterating the fact that we would expect no royalties from such a release. I believe that such a version was indeed released later in 2005.

I also wrote: “I am sure that it was always your intention to pay us royalties on this release and that it’s been a simple oversight that sales up to June 30th have not yet been accounted for. Naturally, I expect that you will put this right as a matter of some urgency.” Silly me: since the release date was in July there obviously wouldn’t have been any sales before June; I trust that the tone of the general sentiment, though, comes through.

I have never received another letter from Classic Rock Direct Ltd. or any other associated company and no royalties have been paid since then for any release. The last period for which any accounting was sent was the six month period ending 30th June 2005.

At different times since then members of the public have alerted me to the appearance of various products which use the material, on a variety of labels which seem to  be offshoots of or associated with the web of Classic Rock companies: “The Live Broadcasts” (Classic Rock Legends 2006) is a single DVD coupling the “Beat Club” tracks with the original footage; “Transmissions” (Storming Music 2007) is an audio only CD taken from the video footage and “A Plague of Lighthouse-keepers (Stormbird 2009) appears to be a repackaging of (the original, 2DVD) “Inside VdGG”. (Incidentally, this last also seems to have been described in promotional blurb as containing “previously unreleased rare archive footage”.)

With an increasing sense of exasperation I have from time to time attempted to alert the public and in some cases retailers to the nature of these releases. My feeling was and is that the constant repackaging and retitling may well have served to draw in unwary completists and is not calculated to enhance the reputation of VdGG among its followers. Often at the urging of those followers I have therefore advised against the purchase of these products.

I’m honour bound to point out that Classic Rock, in whatever company guise, are contractually fully entitled to do such repackaging and, indeed, to assign rights from one company to another as they see fit. There is no element of illegality in their actions.

Of course, the fact that royalties have not been paid on no less than four different releases, by four different labels does, in my mind,  raise a question about whether the terms of the contract have been met.

However, I should state that I have not specifically chased up Classic Rock for royalties since 2005. I am now attempting to do so.

We come to the present.

Under the title “Performance” the same material as ever has now been released on the Eastworld label. I’m now given to understand (and somewhat astonished to discover) that this release is the subject of a dispute. It may be the case that when this dispute is resolved it will become clear who, if anyone, is responsible for the payment of any royalties due. For the moment, though, I remain an observer rather than an interested party in this matter.

Should any of you feel moved to make an entry in the comments section, I should point out that the opinions expressed there will be your own and not mine and that you should be careful to moderate your language especially in terms of anything which might  be taken to be defamatory. In particular, beware of making libellous statements.  I have done my best here simply to set out events factually as they occurred with only enough colouration of my personal views as is needed to provide context for those events and making clear that these views are derived from the facts as set out here and as I understand them.

Finally, I should like to voluntarily make clear that if at times in the past my language – fuelled by my exasperation – has been somewhat immoderate in describing the succession of releases outlined above I did not and do not wish to imply any actual dishonesty on the part of the companies and individuals involved.

P.S. By way of clarification the “Classic Rock” referred to here is not the one associated with the recent Metropolis concert DVD, nor the magazine of that name, nor the Classic Rock Society.