European court allows trademark Fur Elise

By EDRi · December 3, 2003

According to the European Court of Justice, music can be deposited as a
trademark in Europe. This is the outcome of a test-case instigated by the
Dutch trademark agency Shieldmark. The founder of the company Shieldmark
formally sued his father, founder of the trademark agency Kist, in order
to get a European trademark on part of Beethoven’s Fur Elise. The tune is
used in an advertisement with a chicken that cackles the first nine tones
of the world-famous tune. The trademark is granted on the picture of a
musical score with the notes e, d sharp, e, d sharp, e, b, e, c, a.

The Dutch Supreme Court wondered whether sounds could be registered
because normally trademarks are only granted on things that are capable of
a graphic presentation. For this reason sounds could not be registered as
a trademark. The European Court of Justice confirmed that a musical score
is an effective representation of sound, and can therefore be registered.

The case can have serious consequences for the public availability of
European musical heritage. Trademarks can now be used to claim exclusive
rights even when the copyright has long passed and works belong to the
public domain.

Press release European Court (27.11.2003)