UK Government moves towards term extension for sound copyrights

January 2009

Record labels

The UK’s Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, speaking at the UK Music’s Creators Conference at the ICA in London has said he would now support an extension of the term in UK copyright protection for sound recordings from the current 50 years to 70 years. Record labels and some high profile artists have argued that the current term is unfair compared to the life plus seventy years term granted to writers and songwriters, and have been pushing for an extension from fifty to 95 years, which would bring the UK in line with the US. There is a sense of urgency about all this because some of the most profitable records of the rock ‘n’ roll era, including Elvis Presley, are already in the public domain, with early Beatles and Stones recordings are all due to come out of copyright in the next decade. Performers have been broadly supportive of the move but the Music Managers Forum have expressed some concerns, not least as the copyrights are normally owned by the record companies – and cynics argue that most artists don’t see that share until they have ‘recouped’ on the label’s initial investment, and that for many artists that’s never as many artists are tied by iniquitous and unfair contracts which include very low royalty rates. The MMF also want to see a ‘use it or lose it’ provision where artists can regain their own recordings if they are not being exploited. The debate has been recently widened away from just CD and download sales to encompass the public performance of sound recordings – where in the UK musicians do have a statutory right to any royalties generated by the public performance of their recordings (radio and TV stations, at venues etc) and where royalties are paid direct to the artist via collecting society PPL.

The Gowers Report recommended “no change” in the copyright term for sound recordings but Burnham said “There is a moral case for performers benefiting from their work throughout their entire lifetime. That is why I have been working with John Denham, my opposite number in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, to consider the arguments for an extension of copyright term for performers from the current 50 years. An extension to match more closely a performer’s expected lifetime, perhaps something like 70 years, for example, given that most people make their best work in their 20s and 30s. And we must ensure that any extension delivers maximum benefit to performers and musicians. That’s the test of any model as we go forward. It’s only right that someone who created or contributed to something of real value gets to benefit for the full course of their life“. The BPI’s Geoff Taylor said this: “Copyright is the lifeblood of our creative economy and we are delighted that the government is recognising this by supporting an extension of copyright term for British musicians and labels. Copyright stimulates investment in musical talent and encourages innovation. Thousands of recording artists, hundreds of music companies and all British music fans will benefit from fairer copyright term“. Speaking for musicians, the Assistant General Secretary of the Musician’s Union, Horace Trubridge, said this: “We are delighted that the Government has today demonstrated its clear support for the performer community. The MU has always argued that term of protection should not run out during a performer’s lifetime, and we would support any proposal that supported this principle and was of direct benefit to performers“. The host of the Creators Conference UK Music boss Feargal Sharkey, said this: “At this critical time of change, the creative industries have never been more vital to this nation’s future prosperity. Today’s announcement regarding term extension is a clear sign that Government, like everyone in our industry, is committed to ensuring that UK music retains its status as the very best in the world“.

One interesting side remark in the speech is Burnham’s reference to so called moral rights – where artists who no longer control the copyright in their work can, nevertheless, stop it being used or treated in certain arguably immoral ways. Burnham says: “There’s another moral argument that says you should have a right not to have something you’ve created being associated with a cause or a brand you’re not comfortable with” (something a number of US artists such as Madonna and Jackson Browne whose songs had been ‘appropriated’ by the Republican Party in the recent US presidential elections might agree with!).

More comment on copyright term extension came from the European Commission Internal Market Commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, the politician who initiated the European review of the extension issue who was also speaking at the Creators Conference. McCreevy’s proposals, which advocate the 95 year copyright term, also propose a rule whereby after fifty years 20% of gross revenue generated by a recording would go to a special fund for performers – so the labels would have to pass on a fifth of revenues generated from fifty year old plus recordings to musicians whether those recordings had recouped on the label’s initial investment. CMU Daily report that McCreevy’s performers fund is specifically designed to benefit session musicians, who generally rely on recording royalties more than so called featured artists (the artists who the recording is actually credited to) because they don’t normally benefit from all the other income streams the featured artists often get a cut of (songwriting royalties, merchandise sales, money for opening supermarkets, that kind of thing). Session musicians may not be contractually due any cut of royalties generated by the record company, rather relying exclusively on the aforementioned statutory royalty that comes from public performance (which is automatic and not contract dependent). Artist managers also suggest that featured artists, many of whom don’t make much from other revenue streams either, should also get a cut of any performers fund created as part of a copyright extension. As a result trade bodies representing various different interest groups – so in the UK the BPI, Musician’s Union, Music Managers Forum and recently created Featured Artists Coalition – have been discussing how such a fund would work and, crucially, who would benefit from it. McCreevy has urged the industry to reach a consensus on the performers fund proposal as soon as possible saying “There has been a debate between the record labels and the session musicians on how to distribute the money set aside in the fund. How should the amount of the claim be calculated? What revenues should be taken into account and how high should it be fr the performer’s part? [Interested parties] had better come to a rapid agreement on this. And they have to do so publicly, because the enemies of term extension will exploit any discord among future beneficiaries. And here is my warning: the proposal’s chances for rapid adoption in first reading will not be enhanced if the two major beneficiaries, performers and record producers, are caught counting their chickens before they have hatched”.

And see Andrew Gowers response in the FT

Beatles Violinist cries help as ‘Eleanor Rigby copyright ends’

Are performers a special case? comment by Amanda Harcourt

Extending The Term by Ben Challis – ARTICLE on this site (pre-Gowers, March 2006)

No Comments

Comments are closed.