Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Louis Barfe on Cliff Richard's call for longer copyright term

Louis Barfe had to turn down the chance to talk to the BBC Ten O'Clock News last night about Cliff Richard's call for an extension of the copyright term on music recordings. Rather a shame since he had come important things to say.

" Cliff believes that it’s terribly unfair that copyright in sound recordings should expire after 50 years. He believes he should have the right to receive payment for his recordings in perpetuity. Funnily enough, as a fellow creative toiler, I semi-agree. I’d hate to think of the Peter Pan of Pop having to sell his last tennis racket to make ends meet, but the fact is that extending the copyright period past the current 50 years would be injurious to artists less fortunate than Sir Cliff.

Pick a record, any record. Look at the small print on the label. Chances are that somewhere it will say “© Original sound recording is owned by [insert flatulent money-grabbing corporate monolith here]”. Not “© Original sound recording is owned by the poor bugger who wrote and recorded it”. Only successful artists with persuasive managers retain the copyright in their own recordings, leasing them to the record companies for a set period, after which the deal is renegotiated. Most artists still sign direct to a record company, which then owns every chord they strum or note they warble during the period of that contract, for 50 years after its release.

That’s 50 years in which the record companies can re-issue and re-package the music, making it available to a grateful listening public. Or it’s 50 years in which the record companies can let the music sit deleted and unloved in an archive, whining about downloaders while fail ing to realise their assets fully, as would be good business practice anywhere else. The re-issue market is booming, and it’s a market that will seemingly withstand any amount of product. Moreover, the technology now exists to make available material that would not turn a profit on even the most modest CD pressing run.

Disenfranchised from their work, most artists have no control over its exploitation and destiny. Records that sell for silly prices second-hand, and are ripe for re-issue, sit gathering dust. One option is for the artist or a reissue label to license the recordings from the record company. However, they usually demand an extortionate up-front payment, which, in the case of most niche recordings, is enough to discourage all but those with a Brewster’s Millions complex from bothering."

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