Spector wins back rights to Fifties classic

A High Court judge equated a classic Fifties song to a piece of land yesterday when the American pop legend Phil Spector won back the United Kingdom copyright to his first hit, "To Know Him is to Love Him", in a case that illustrated the continuing value of the songs that accompanied the adolescence of today's fifty-somethings.

The schmaltzy favourite of a thousand karaoke bars, better known as "To Know, Know, Know, Him", has been the source of a wrangle over unpaid royalties between Spector's US-based company, Mother Bertha Music Inc, and UK-based Bourne Music Ltd.

Mr Justice Ferris ruled that Bourne Music had no rights to the copyright after December 1986.

Mr Spector claimed an initial 28-year copyright assignment under United States law, made in 1958, in which rights to the song were transferred to the music publishers Warman Music - and a licence was then granted to Bourne - had expired in 1986.

Bourne claimed that it was still entitled to the rights even though, since 1987, it had not paid any royalties in respect of them. An inquiry into those profits due to Mr Spector, estimated to run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, will now take place.

In an illuminating aside about the true nature of classic songs the judge said: "When that 28-year term expired the copyright `reverted' to Mr Spector in the same way that one speaks of land `reverting' to a freeholder on the expiration of a lease." A further hearing will take place in May to decide who owns the copyright in jurisdictions outside the UK.

Now 57, Mr Spector wrote the song in 1958 for the Teddy Bears, a band comprising himself and two high school friends, who took it first to the top of the US charts and then around the world. He reached his peak in the mid-Sixties, producing classics like "River Deep - Mountain High", with Ike and Tina Turner, and The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", before announcing his retirement at the age of 25.

Since his peak Mr Spector has kept a low profile. He produced the Beatles' Let It Be album in the late Sixties - for which he was criticised by Paul McCartney for the soaring violins on "The Long and Winding Road".

He has managed to live sumptuously in Los Angeles for 20 years on the royalties from his early works. Which explains the importance of the court case.