EU proposes extending the term for sound recordings

March 2008

Record labels, artists, internet

Having been knocked back in the UK in the Gowers Report, record labels and artists will be delighted with the news that European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy feels that performing artists should no longer be the ‘poor cousins’ of the music business, and is proposing an increase in the term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 95 years across Europe saying “I strongly believe that copyright protection for Europe’s performers represents a moral right to control the use of their work and earn a living from their performances. I have not seen a convincing reason why a composer of music should benefit from a term of copyright which extends to the composer’s life and 70 years beyond, while the performer should only enjoy 50 years, often not even covering his lifetime It is the performer who gives life to the composition and while most of us have no idea who wrote our favourite song – we can usually name the performer“. The proposal is set against the copyright term for music copyright (songs and lyrics are protected for the life of author plus 70 years), the position in the USA (where copyright in sound recordings can extend to 95 years) and backed up by an argument that both featured artists and session musicians need ‘pension’ provisions from ongoing royalties now that average life expectancy in Europe is 75 for men and 81 for women. However Commissioner McCreevy seems to have listened to the voices of artists (particularly the MMF) and says “I am determined to ensure that this extension will benefit all artists – whether featured artists or session musicians,” the Commissioner says. “For session musicians, the record companies will set up a fund – a substantial fund reserving at least 20% of the income during the extended term to them. For featured artists, original advances may no longer be set off against royalties in the extended term. That means the artist would get all the royalties during the extended term”. I suspect overall the labels will be happy, but the idea of artists receiving all of the royalties will still be an anathema to many labels – what – no recoupment!? What – no deductions? What – no royalty reducers? Mon Dieu! Zoot Alors!  Perhaps even more alarming for the labels (well not really) is that the Commissioner suggests a “use it or lose it policy”, again something the MMF have championed although the Commissioner goes nowhere near as far as the MMF would like. Here in the case a record company is unwilling to re-release a sound recording during the extended term, the performer can move the rights to another label. It appears that this proposal should apparently be ready for adoption by the Commission before the summer break of 2008. However it should be remembered that with piracy running at 20 illegal downloads to every 1 legal download (and that from the IFPI’s own figures!). if the labels don’t get their digital business models right it could all be a bit of a waste of time and legislative energy.

And see the article on this site by Ben Challis – Extending The Term  (under Articles) at

Perhaps more sensibly the IFPI is supporting a campaign in the US to change US law to make the $20bn US radio industry pay for the music it broadcasts. Rather unusually the performance of sound recordings on terrestrial radio (but not digital/satellite) does NOT attract a royalty payment. Now over 6000 artists from fifteen countries, including the UK, have now put their name to a petition calling on those proposals to become US law. The petition, organised by global record label trade body the IFPI and UK recording royalty society PPL, says that the signatories believe it is “grossly unfair” that the US radio industry pays nothing for the music it uses to draw audiences and drive profits. Late last year a group of US politicians put forward proposals to introduce albeit relatively modest royalties for terrestrial radio companies to pay, and those proposals have been much discussed in the last couple of months.

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