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Warner Bros Music vs de Wilde

1983 • Decided • England and Wales

Claimant Work: Chariots of Fire

Defendant Work: Title unknown

The Case

In 1983, Warner Brothers Music appealed for an injunction against composer Graham de Wilde and his publisher, the production music library KPM Music Limited, along with Clarks the shoe manufacturer and the advertising agency CDPP. Warner was the exclusive UK sub-publisher of the successful 1981 film soundtrack music to Chariots of Fire, written by the composer known as Vangelis. CDPP was commissioned by Clarks to produce a television commercial. CDPP had the idea of showing children running along a beach, at their own admission emulating the scene from the film Chariots of Fire. CDPP commissioned KPM to produce accompanying music in the style of Chariots of Fire.

Case for infringement

Warner requested the injunction with some urgency as they had licensed the original music for Chariots of Fire to Ford for a car commercial beginning the week following. They were concerned that Ford would pull out of the deal if they felt Warner unable to protect their exclusive use of the music in advertising. In his report for the claimants, musicologist Dr Geoffrey Bush said, “I have rarely seen such a clear cut case of plagiarism and believe there is not a single reputable musical expert who would not wholeheartedly agree”.

Case against infringement

The defendants pleaded that there had been an undue delay in bringing the injunction request (the initial letter to their solicitors was dated two weeks after the start of the television campaign), and that the campaign had almost run its course so should be allowed to continue.

Score Comparisons

Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to source a recording of the de Wilde piece, though an extract of Chariots Of Fire is provided below.

Chariots of Fire

(Vangelis) © Spheric BV. Recording ℗ 1981, Polydor Records/Universal Music.

Chariots of Fire

Title unknown

Title unknown

The Decision

The judge, Mr Justice Vinelott, was clear that the visual aspect of the commercial “was quite clearly designed to associate the advertisement with the film consciously or unconsciously in the mind of the viewer”. Regarding the musical accompaniment to the commercial, he felt that it seemed “a mere orchestral arrangement without significant variation” of Chariots of Fire. The judge found it “a blatant plagiarism” and a clear attempt by Clarks to associate itself with a successful film. He also highlighted the fact that none of the defendants took steps to consult Warner regarding their plans before creating and distributing the commercial. The injunction was granted, and it was recorded in a subsequent infringement trial that KPM “paid a sum in settlement” to Warner to avoid an inevitable copyright infringement trial.

Agree or Disagree with the decision?

Agree 83% Agree
Disagree 16% Disagree

Our Summary

What is surprising here is the boldness of the defendants in emulating without licence not only an original and highly recognisable piece of copyright music, but also its accompanying popular and successful visual accompaniment from the opening scene of the film. Unfortunately it has not yet been possible to source a recording of the music or film from this trial.

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