EU Legal Committee approves 95 year copyright term for sound recordings

March 2009

Record labels, artists

The European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee has given its backing to the proposal to extend the term in sound recordings to 95 years from the current 50 year term. Despite this, some UK commentators remain lukewarm about the proposal and ministers remain unconvinced. The UK government’s 2006 Gowers Report said there was no case for more than fifty years of copyright on recordings although late last year Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said Britain would support an extension, though to 70 rather than 95 years. Now IP Minister David Lammy has said that debate and compromise would be needed before the EU’s Council Of Ministers could pass copyright extension proposals saying at a recent meeting at the Houses Of Parliament that while he and his colleagues had now accepted the case for extension, “opinions on this vary across Europe – so there needs to be some canny footwork to make this happen”. He repeated that the UK Government will only support an extension to 70 years saying that was sufficient to protect musician and performers saying “While the UK believes that performers should be protected throughout their lifetime, a period of 95 years goes beyond what is needed to achieve this aim”.

EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy had previously tabled proposals for a Europe-wide extension and Governments across the EU have subsequently been discussing McCreevy’s proposals at length. It is the latest draft of McCreevy’s proposals that were approved by the Legal Affairs Committee: as part of McCreevy’s proposal, recording artists, and session musicians must benefit most from any extension in the term and it seems in particular session musicians and recording artists on very low royalty rates from contracts from the early years of the music industry will be protected. The Legal Affairs Committee also stressed that it wanted musicians, not record companies, to be the biggest beneficiaries of the extension. To that end they added an amendment to ensure musicians couldn’t lose the new royalties they would receive as a result of an extension because of previous contractual agreements with the labels they’d worked with. The committee also focused in on the proposed fund for session musicians, which would get 20% of revenues generated as a result of the extension and An amendment has been made to ‘to prevent the use of previous contractual agreements to deduct money from the additional royalties’. David Lammy has already said that he didn’t feel the proposals went far enough to protect performers’ interests, implying he and his team will be looking to add more provisos as well as reduce the proposed new term length once McCreevy’s proposals reach the third and final stage – the Council Of Ministers (where Lammy will represent the UK). The legislation will be reviewed after 3 years, and then every 4 years. The Commission has also been asked to look at whether a similar extension is justified in the audiovisual sector.

The vote of confidence in the proposals from the Legal Affairs Committee is the first of three steps to getting the extension proposals into European law. Next the European Parliament will vote on the proposals next month, and then they will go before the Council Of Ministers, where representatives from the governments of each country in the EU will have to approve the proposals. A plenary vote will take place in March.


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