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EU extends audio copyright by 20 years

  • #1
    Closed Accounts Posts: 17,209 aidan_walsh
    The Council of the European Union, where the various member state governments all have a say, voted yesterday (PDF) without discussion to increase the copyright term in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years. Small countries like Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden voted against the extension, but it passed anyway.

    The long and winding road to this point actually began in 2008, when the European Union announced a plan to extend musical copyrights to 95 years. The stated objective was to "help aging session musicians" who had been making small amounts of money from these recordings for 50 years but were about to be cut off just when the rigors of old age were taking their toll.


    How Cliff Richard kept the royalties rolling in

    Known as 'Cliff's law', this 20-year extension of copyright will please musicians, but its economic impact is less certain

    Two years after the European parliament gave a first reading to Irish MEP Brian Cowley's bill to extend the copyright in sound recordings from 50 to 70 years, the EU council of ministers has changed the law, despite protests from Belgium and Sweden, among others.

    By 2014, governments around the EU will be expected to amend their copyright laws to put the modifed directive 2006/116/EC into effect, along with provisions designed to improve the lot of musicians that include a fund for session musicians who signed away their rights when a recording was made to be paid for by record labels. Performers will also be allowed to renegotiate contracts with record labels after 50 years or to ask for rights to be returned to them if the recording is not available.

    Which copyright are you after?

    Under current EU laws recorded musical performances are protected for a maximum of 50 years, during which period the performers can control the distribution of their work and may receive an income. The composer also gets copyright in the work, and the record company usually has a "recording right" that stops anyone else making a recording of the performance. The sound recording copyright has been extended to 70 years. The original proposal was to make it 95 years to harmonise with the situation in the US, making the new deal a "compromise".

    Will it do any good?

    Many well-known musicians and the heavyweight lobbyists for the new law claim it will benefit musicians, the industry and the wider economy by allowing them to earn money from their work, providing session musicians and others with a pension in their old age. However, the potential economic impact is far from certain, and in 2009 the European commission ignored two studies carried out by the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Information Law that argued against extension, prompting Professor Bernt Hugenholtz to accuse it of "wilfully ignoring scientific analysis and evidence" in its policy-making.

    What happens next?

    Nobody really knows what will happen. The problem with changing laws in response to lobbying from famous musicians instead of evaluating the evidence is that the outcome is completely uncertain. What we can be sure of is that many recordings of no real economic value but potential historic significance will be locked away for another 20 years and those who might have been inspired to make it available non-commercially will be deterred; those who might have used it to inspire their own creative expression will find themselves blocked, and the public domain will be further diminished.

    But Cliff will be happy, so that's probably OK.

    Bill Thompson:, Tuesday 13 September 2011.

    © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

    So the wishes of a wrinkly old millionaire are more important than those of the governments of a number of countries?

    Way to go democracy.