Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Council of the European Union voted yesterday to extend the term of copyright on sound recordings by twenty years, from 50 years to 70, preventing a number of early recordings of 1960s rock musicians including The Beatles from entering the public domain. The 1962 hit “Love Me Do” would have entered the public domain in 2012 if this legislation had not been introduced. EU member states have to enact the copyright extension within two years.
The news was welcomed by representatives of the recording industry and by some recording artists. Cliff Richard has campaigned for term extension. Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones said the decision was “obviously advantageous” to performers, and Bjorn Ulvaeus from Abba welcomed the continued control over the group’s recordings: “Now I won’t have to see Abba being used in a TV commercial”. Geoff Taylor from the British Phonographic Industry said “[a]n exceptional period of British musical genius was about to lose its protection. As a matter of principle, it is right that our musicians should benefit from their creativity during their lifetimes, and that they should not be disadvantaged compared to musicians in other countries.”
Extension of the copyright term also has critics. Jim Killock, from the British digital rights advocacy group the Open Rights Group (ORG), said the move “puts money into the pockets of big labels” but will be “unlikely to benefit smaller artists and it will mean that a lot of sound recordings that are out of print will stay out of print”. Singer Sandie Shaw, of the Featured Artists’ Coalition, said the move would be “extremely good news for record companies and collection agencies, but bad news for artists” and would lead to artists having “20 more years in servitude to contracts that are no longer appropriate to a digital age”.
The extension to 70 years is less than that EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy proposed in 2008. At that time, Wikinews interviewed Eddan Katz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Becky Hogge, then Executive Director of ORG, in Brussels. The two organisations were gathering like-minded groups to oppose harmonisation with the US’s 95-year term. Characterising the sought extension as “Cliff Richard’s pension”, Hogge asserted, “[w]hat you’ve got at the end of the day with copyright term extension is basically […] rent seeking by special interest groups lobbying governments to change the law in order that they may economically gain directly.”
Two reviews of intellectual property rights in Britain have concluded it would not be economically beneficial to extend copyright terms on sound recordings. The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property in 2006 concluded extension of the copyright term would “negatively impact upon consumers and industry”. The Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth in 2011 concluded it would be “economically detrimental”. A study conducted by Bournemouth University’s Center for Intellectual Property Policy and Management concluded 72% of the economic benefits of the term extension would go to record labels, with 28% going to artists, only 4% of which are going to less successful artists.