EU proposes a 95 year term for copyright in performers rights and sound recordings

August 2008

All areas

The European Commission has adopted two new copyright initiatives. Firstly the Commission is proposing a new Directive “to align the copyright term for performers with that applicable to authors, in this way bridging the income gap that performers face toward the end of their lives”. Secondly, the Commission proposes to fully harmonise the copyright term that applies to co-written musical compositions. In parallel, the Commission also adopted a Green Paper on Copyright in the Knowledge Economy. The Commission’s press release says “Both of these initiatives comprise a unique mix of social, economic and cultural measures aimed at maintaining Europe as a prime location for cultural creators in the entertainment and knowledge sectors”. Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said: “The copyright measures adopted today should underline that we take a holistic approach when it comes to intellectual property. The proposal on term extension has a strong social component and the Green Paper is deeply embedded in the overall societal and knowledge context” adding in relation to sound recordings “I am committed to concentrate all necessary efforts to ensure that performers have a decent income and that there will be a European-based music industry in the years to come. The proposal on term extension envisages extending the term of protection for recorded performances and the record itself from 50 to 95 years. In this way, the proposal would benefit both the performer and the record producer. The press release says “it also signals that Europe values their creative contribution. The extended term would benefit performers who could continue earning money over an additional period. A 95-year term would bridge the income gap that performers face when they turn 70, just as their early performances recorded in their 20s would lose protection. They will continue to be eligible for broadcast remuneration, remuneration for performances in public places, such as bars and discotheques, and compensation payments for private copying of their performances”. The UK’s Musicians Union issued a statement in support of an extension of the recorded music copyright term, timed to immediately precede the publication of proposals from Commissioner McCreevy supporting the EC proposal as previously the  UK government’s Gowers Review of copyright laws said the recording copyright term should stay at 50 years. Clearly record labels, artists and possibly session musicians all stand to win from an extension in the recording copyright but there is some debate about whether labels will simply use the extension to keep collecting royalties from unrecouped artists. According to Music Week, previously discussed proposals that would favour artists over record companies as part of any copyright term extension may be shelved. There had been talk of any copyright extension being accompanied by something called the “clean slate” provision, in which parts of existing agreements between labels and artists would be automatically wiped clean at the fifty year point, basically meaning that artists who had not recouped on their original record deal (and who are therefore not due any royalties from their record sales) and those who had waved royalty payments on discounted record releases would no longer be subject to those obligations but according to Music Week said “clean slate” provision may not now appear as part of McCreevy’s proposals meaning that while the extension will still be of value to labels and those session musicians paid a straight royalty, they may be pretty worthless to signed artists who haven’t recouped, which is seven eighths of them according to Music Week. Critics of the extension point out that sound recordings of 50 years’ old or more should be released from copyright in order to benefit all society. They say that extending copyright terms will only benefit the players on the very small portion of 50-year-old recordings that are still available to buy. “Major record labels want to keep control of sound recordings well beyond the current 50-year term so that they can continue to make marginal profits from the few recordings that are still commercially viable half a century after they were laid down,” said a statement from Sound Copyright, a group of rights activists that lobbies against the extension. “Yet if the balance of copyright tips in their favour, it will damage the music industry as a whole, and also individual artists, libraries, academics, businesses and the public.” The UK IPO have given a rather chilly reception to the European Commission’s proposal to extend performers’ rights to 95 years. A press release quotes the Minister for IP, Baroness Delyth Morgan, as saying: “Because copyright represents a monopoly we need to be very clear that the circumstances justify an extension. We will therefore need to consider these proposals carefully to understand how they would work and what the benefits are likely to be.” She continues by encouraging members of public to contact the IPO with comments on the proposal by the end of August (contact details are in the press release). (press release)

see Dave Rowntree’s (Blur’s drummer) comments

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