UK Government proposes copyright term extension
According to an article in the Sunday Times, the UK government is considering an extension of the copyright term for recordings. James Purnell, the minister for broadcasting, creative industries and tourism, suggested to extend the term from the current 50 years to the more generous US figure of 90 years. According to him record companies need this to make more money, so they can nurture more new talent. His press release says: “The music industry is a risky business and finding talent and artists is expensive. There is a view that long-term earners are needed so that the record companies can plough money back into unearthing new talent.” Presumably he wants Europe to agree a term extension, whether directly or after a unilateral UK move creates a case for ‘harmonisation’.
But many IP experts have seriously criticised the reasoning. Songs are protected by a lot of rights. For example, it’s just not true that the Beatles songs start to come off copyright in 2013. The main rights appear to be publishing (owned by Michael Jackson for most of the Beatles songs), songwriter royalties (still owned by Lennon’s estate and McCartney) and performance (owned by EMI). It’s only this last right that starts to run out after 50 years: the others will last until 70 years after Sir Paul McCartney dies.
Thus nobody will be able to freely distribute the Beatles songs in 2014 – it’s just that the royalty distribution will change slightly, and in a way that the industry has known about for 50 years. A possible copyright term extension on the other hand will cause a direct loss for creative artists who would like to sample and remix fragments of classic songs without having to pay royalties, and for academics who maintain websites of out-of-copyright recordings of traditional music for study purposes.
Evergreening the record companies’ back catalogue will focus executives’ attention on that, rather than on new talent. There is a serious risk they will invest more marketing budget on the Beatles than on the latest acts.
On 16 June, Purnell will probably go into more detail about his views on the copyright term, during a lecture at the Institute for Public Policy Research entitled ‘Creative Britannia: turning ideas into business’.
Sunday Times: Plan to extend copyright on pop classics (05.06.2005)
IPPR announcement lecture Purnell