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.

29 Comments on “A complex web”

  1. NowhereToHide says:

    Classic Rock ‘Bastards’ (they are no legends unless you call crooks legends) did the same to Caravan, having resigned the management division of the label through production of their 2002 album ‘The Unauthorised Breakfast Item’ which would be delayed until a contract was signed with Mark Powell in 2003 – another mistake in the long run.

    Bedrock – Nottingham 1990 licensed from ITV/Carlton as well as poorly produced and pressed new performance recordings on DVD and CD and compilations of the same were put out over and over, none with royalties to show.

    The parent company thankfully seems to have now finally gone out of business – probably a sign of the times with DVD and CD on the way out. They were alive for a very long time and managed to reissue the same content of many bands they had screwed over several times under a new title and new label, later disclaiming on the product that the contents were not authorised, endorsed or supported by the artist.

    However good that they have gone, so there will be no more issues (I hope) it is bad as any chance of reclaiming the owed royalties has surely gone down the plug with the liquidation.

    Also who has the master material for all the media the company produced in their lifetime and what rights remain.

  2. Anonymous says:

    On a completely different note, we have just taken delivery of, and watched, the Metropolis dvd. It captures the energy, musicianship and intensity of the trio playing live to superb effect. Let’s hope it will find a broadcaster sooner rather than later.

  3. Good luck with that, Peter! When you – and the three of you – would be in Toronto next time?

  4. The way the story is given here is of six years of unpaid uncollected royalties, on product that Peter would have been charged large amounts by the company who owned it to be interviewed to be part of, which seems absurd. What has not been said here is whether the company would have kept the rights to re-edit the interview, had it ever been given. Also represented here is the legal tranfer of ownership between companies owned by one man where the rights of the original performers were eroded by each transfer between companies, as if the rights to the material were like housing debts that declined in value each time they were sold on. In so far as this is all legal, so bad. I am sure there is a long list of artists’ work so treated, with the work effectively having the value of a legalised bootleg recording.

    Successful artists have often been characterised as acquisitive for owning their own back catalogue and incoporating themselves into what becomes a brand name, for selling T shirts key rings and other ephemera. The Grateful Dead come to mind on that front. But actually I wish that Peter himself could come to own the material that is now so devlaued, and he could be trusted to use ior dispose of it within the law, with integrity.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think it was old Bill Quakepike who said something along the lines that Mr. C “is an honorable man.” Or, was it someone else?

  6. Don Vito Corleone says:

    Tutto sembra giusto.Dove il problema?

  7. Andy Holloway says:

    Hello Peter,

    After nearly 30 years listening to Van Der Graaf and your solo stuff I have never met anyone who’s actually heard of the band! ELP or Yes maybe but VdGG? “Never ‘eard of ’em mate…”

    With VdGG’s audience presumably being relatively small surely only the totally uninformed will think this is not the same old same old? (No reflection of the work by the way). His return must be ever diminishing hence the endless recycling. That probably doesn’t make you feel any better, but one thing’s for sure the words and music of P. Hammill and VdGG will long outlive a certain R. Carruthers. Amen to that.

    I think it’s time for Sandy Denny again or maybe some Nick Drake. Goodnight all.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ha! You hang out with the ‘wrong’ crowd
      I met a LOT of people who heard of ‘them’ in different places and different countries

  8. Dave F. says:

    Your moral integrity and sense of caring shows through in everything you do and say. Your VdGG and solo work is of the highest and richest order, and that will always remain as your legacy.

    I pray that this mishagas, (craziness in yiddish), will end. In the mean time, please carry on with you wonderful talent and your laser-like insight to our world’s plights.

    Because of artists such as you, Robert Fripp, Jakko Jaksyzk, Bill Nelson, Peter Gabriel, Steven Wilson, Tim Bowness, Brian Eno…etc, you men are our guiding lights! God, watch over all these great artists and help them work out their horrible mistreatments by mean-spirited people.

    • Peter (and all) I wanted to drop a line of thanks for your Manchester Gig. After 34 years of listening to you, this concert restored my waning appetite (im sorry) – being one of the greatest experiences ive had at a concert. The combination of three phenomenal talents that you are, and the impeccable timing and fusion of your playing made it, for me, an experience i will never forget, and I can only wait for more live concerts to come, as I listen again to the many Vdgg albums I have brought out from storage. God Bless.

  9. Dave Winstanley says:

    Hi Peter,
    As a fan of both Van der Graaf Generator AND Genesis, I can fully relate to what you say here. In addition, I would like to point out that the Classic Rock SOCIETY, of which I am a proud member, and for which I occasionally write and raise funds, is a totally different concern from, and therefore not to be confused with, the organisations that you refer to above. Finally, I’d like to add that you seem to me to have acted with total moral integrity regarding the above, with the interests of your fans, and the correct representation of your/VdGG’s material as your concern.
    Best wishes for now and the future.

  10. bayernmike says:

    I hope this gets sorted to your satisfaction Peter.

    You know one of my favourite songs of yours (or anybody’s) is Two or Three Spectres, almost 40 years after that was originally released this whole thing seems as bad, and I can understand the frustration that comes through in that song

  11. Anonymous says:

    luego nos acusan a nosotros de piratas

  12. Anonymous says:

    It must be awfull for an artist not to be the owner of your own creative rights. Even worst it must be to fight these legally fights and choose your words soooo carefully. Let it not disturb your creativaty. This is so much more meaningful. What you bring and brought (solo and with VDGG)is to valuabel and priceless. Don’t let it get on to you….

  13. Jeremy says:

    I hope this is resolved with the minimum of stress to yourself, your family and the rest of the band. Sincere best wishes!

  14. Clive Norman says:

    I suppose if this episode in any way contributed to the ousting of Jaxon from the band or the breakdown or similar of any personal relationships between band members and the like then that would be very sad indeed.

    As far as I know the English law of libel doesn’t prevent the description of individuals in perjorative terms, provided such terms don’t refer to any actual characteristic of the individual concerned.

    In my minds eye I have a picture of Mr. Carruthers and it is not a pleasant picture at all, but then, it wouldn’t be, would it?

  15. Andrew Wales says:

    I have frequently heard the libel laws of the UK being described as ridiculous and in need of reform. Well here is further evidence… Fortunately most people who like your work are intelligent enough to work out what is going on and the law of diminishing returns will sooner or later bring to an end this recycling process for once and for all.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Very interesting to read Peters thoughts on this subject but isn’t there also a problem with what was the “Now and Then” material and “Timevaults” stuff being continually repackaged, I did purchase a cd not to long ago titled “The Masters” which compiled materal from “Gentlemen Prefer the Blues” and “Timevaults” which I already have on vinyl; but no mention of this in the journal?
    I do remember in one of the old newletters being advised not to buy the “Now and Then” LP/CD.
    (Hope I’ve not said anything out of order!)

  17. Anonymous says:

    The threat of libel makes it impossible for free discussion here. Fans have discussed this topic years ago, and are aware of all the details mentioned.

    It goes without saying that no VdGG fan would suspect the band of trying to make a profit from any of this. (We all know that the terms “profit” and “success” are, alas, things beyond the band members’ comprehension.)

    And I’d say that belief runs through the minds of anybody who’s heard of “Peter Hammill” or “Van der Graaf Generator.”


  18. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this tawdry tale Peter… the music business, eh?

    Bob Fripp may well have some useful advice about taking ownership of one’s performance ‘product’ and protecting its distribution

  19. ebv2010 says:

    Within the advised guidelines I find it difficult to post a reply. Let me highlight the pre-emptive strike by the publisher of the materials in question towards expected responses to their business ethics. It speaks volumes.

    Being aware of the libel laws as they are in the UK (and being a staunch opponent of them, seeing the wide abuse of it) I’ll hold my tongue, at least on this blog.

  20. Wishing you well Peter.

    Do you and the band have any option to release the material yourselves, coupling it with other stuff and offering it up as the definitive/final word on the video archive?

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