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Buena Vista Social Club

A U.S. company has lost a six-year legal battle to win the copyright to a collection of Cuban songs that was taken over by the Cuban government.

Peer International Corp. had claimed ownership of 600 tracks, some of which were made famous by the Buena Vista Social Club.

A London high courtsaid Thursday it hasrejected Peer's contention that Cuba's Editora Musical de Cuba had claimed copyright unlawfully, but also rejected a claim by EMC for larger royalties for the composers.

Peer signed up hundreds of Cuban musicians in the 1930s, '40s and '50s, when there was a great demand for Cuban music in the U.S.

But Peer closed its Cuban offices when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and EMC, a state-owned company, took control of copyright for the works.

Many of the songs in question had been forgotten outside Cuba until the release of the Buena Vista Social Club album in 1997, which reawakened a taste for Cuban music.

Peer tried to reestablish contact with the composers in the late 1990s, but most of the original composers were dead. The firm then tried to contact their heirs, said Justice Lindsay, who ruled the U.S. firm had acted within the law.

The case had to be heard in Havana and London because the U.S. does not allow commercial contact with Cuba.

Evelio Landa Martinez, the 83-year-old composer of the hit Cha Cha Cha, was one of the few surviving composers who testified during the Havana portion of the civil suit.

EMC had given rights to the music to Termidor Music Publishers, which had complained that Peer paid virtually nothing to Cuban composers.

Peter Prescott QC, representing Termidor, had argued that Peer contracts, all written between 1930 and 1959,were "cunningly contrived" to cheat composersand should be ruled invalid.

The judge said this criticism was "exaggerated and unfounded" and ruled there was no evidence to show the composers had been cheated.

The U.S. firm may have some rights over some songs for up to 25 years after the death of the composer under contract obligations,the judgesaid.

But he dismissed Peer's claim to ownership of all the works.



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