A French court is due to rule on whether or not Bolero, one of the best-known classical music pieces in the world, was written by Maurice Ravel alone, in a decision with big financial stakes.

Ravel first performed Bolero at the Paris Opera in 1928 and it was an immediate sensation. He died 10 years later and his heirs earned millions of dollars until the copyright ran out in 2016 and the work passed into the public domain.

In France, copyright usually runs for 70 years after a composer’s death, though some extra years were added to make up for losses during the second world war.

The heirs of Alexandre Benois, a celebrated stage designer who worked on the original performance of Bolero, say he should have been credited all along as a co-author and are demanding a share of the proceeds. And because Benois died in 1960, that would put Bolero back under copyright until 2039.

A lawyer for the Benois estate told a French court in February that “the music of the Bolero was created especially for the ballet” and should not be considered as a stand-alone piece of orchestra music.

Ravel’s estate supports the claim that it was a “collaborative work” with the Russian set dresser, not least because it would start receiving copyright payments again. The claimants point to various documents that name Benois as a co-author of the music.

On the other side is France’s Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (Sacem), which says the claim is based on a “historical fiction”. Sacem points to an official declaration signed by Ravel in 1929 identifying him as the sole author.

Sacem’s lawyer said the rights had once generated “millions and millions of euros” a year, though this had fallen to an average of €135,507 annually between 2011 and 2016.

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