France | Copyright of Ravel’s Boléro in court

(Nanterre) The Bolero by Ravel a collaborative work? This thorny question was addressed Wednesday in a court near Paris, as part of a copyright case linked to one of the most widely broadcast pieces of classical music in the world.

For the rights holders of Alexandre Benois, a collaborator of Maurice Ravel, refusing to recognize their ancestor as co-author of this global success is not a right that the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (Sacem) can assume. . This private French company, founded in 1851, manages copyrights.

THE Bolerothey argue, citing several historical elements, is a “collaborative work”.

Historical “fiction”, overflowing “imagination”, replies Sacem. Mr. Benois’ heirs had sued Sacem in 2018 after two refusals to register him as co-author of the work.

The stakes are high: if Sacem accedes to this request, the Bolerowhich fell into the public domain in 2016, would according to her be protected until 1er May 2039, Alexandre Benois having died in 1960.

If the rights generated represented “for a time millions and millions of euros” annually, according to the information provided to AFP by Sacem’s lawyer Me Josée-Anne Bénazéraf, the amounts reached on average 135,507 euros per year between 2011 and 2016.

The beneficiaries of Mr. Benois argue that the Bolero is originally the music of a ballet created at the Paris Opera in 1928.

“The music of Bolero was created especially for ballet,” asserts Me Édouard Mille, lawyer for the Benois estate.

With Me Gilles Vercken, lawyer for the Ravel estate, they take turns at the bar to present the evidence which according to them demonstrates that the Bolero is the work of not one, but several artists.

Presence of the name of Benois on the argument of two ballets performed on the evening of the premiere of Ravel’s work in 1928, statements by Louis Laloy, general secretary of the Paris Opera, who wrote in a daily that Alexandre Benois was the “author” of the three shows, or even a letter from a legal director of Sacem in the 1980s mentioning the collaboration with the ballet choreographer, Bronislava Nijinska…


Beyond the historical elements, the main issue of the hearing revealed itself to be the role of Sacem in the recognition of a possible co-author of the Bolero.

“For Sacem there is copyright and copyright Bolero. “Exceptional work, exceptional regime,” underlined Mr.e Mille who claims that the company has only twice in the past refused requests similar to that of Mr. Benois’ heirs.

“It’s not fair that Sacem is forced, 96 years after the fact, to do colossal work to fight against chimeras,” retorted Mr. Bénazéraf.

THE Bolero was protected for 78 years and four months: in France, the rights to a work fall 70 years after the death of the author – 1938 in the case of Ravel.

But the law provides for extensions which aim to compensate for the loss of income of French artists during the two world wars, which carried protection until 1er May 2016.

“Isn’t that enough?” What would we have said if Sacem closed its eyes to add another 23 years? », was indignant Me Bénazéraf, who regretted that “the list of faults accused (at Sacem) grew gradually” during the procedure.

Should Sacem have acted as a simple “registration chamber” as requested by the applicants, or was it justified in refusing that Alexandre Benois be recognized as a co-author? Decision expected on June 24.


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