Prelude publication is considered copyright infringement of corresponding hymn

Wilhelm Hansen A/S vs. Dansk Kirkemusiker Forening, the High Court (Eastern Division)

Hansen holds the copyright in the hymn “Det første lys er Ordet, talt af Gud” (The first light is the Word spoken by God) by Peter Møller.

Dansk Kirkemusiker Forening (The Association of Danish Church Musicians) printed a prelude to the hymn in a publication published by the Association primarily to its members, and following the Associations refusal to pay royalties, Hansen commenced infringement action.

Two independent experts appointed by the Court explained that preludes by tradition incorporate the melodious sequence of the hymn in whole or in part with the purpose of introducing the community to the hymn. Also the actual prelude incorporates parts of the hymn, and the experts explained that it makes no sense to consider the prelude an inde¬pendent work, as it is a rewriting of the hymn or the original work according to its purpose.

In particular on this basis, the Court found the publication of the prelude a rewriting of the hymn and not exempted by the right to quotation. Further, the Court found no basis to establish that Hansen should be precluded from enforcing its copyrights through an es¬tablished practice of publishing preludes without the payment of royalties. Thus, finding copyright infringement and in favour of Hansen, the Court awarded damages and compensation as claimed.

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